Whether they’re edible or not, red berries tend to put people in a cheerful mood. It may be because they’re associated with the holidays or the way they stand out with such happy defiance on a bush or shrub that’s otherwise covered with snow.
A berry is defined as a soft, juicy fruit that often has a lot of seeds and arises from a single ovary of a single flower. Usually, they don’t have stones or pits and can be sweet or sour. With that in mind, here are 18 berries that ripen to shades of red:
These delicate berries are prized both for their taste and their delicacy. It’s almost impossible to find store-bought raspberries at peak flavor, even though the plant itself is hardy.
An unusual looking fruit, a raspberry is made of drupelets that each contain one seed, and these hundred or so drupelets surround a hollow core.
The fat, sweet and juicy strawberries raised for cultivation are descended from wild strawberries, which are tiny and don’t have much flavor if they’re not eaten right after they’re picked.
To be honest, the strawberry isn’t technically a berry because it doesn’t come from the ovary of the plant but from the ovary’s receptacle, and what looks like seeds on the outside of the fruit are actually ovaries that each contain a seed.
But the fact that it's not a real berry hasn’t stopped the strawberry from being put in everything from ice cream to alcoholic drinks to candy and perfume.
These berries are native to colder climates and aren't cultivated but harvested from the wild. They are especially popular in Scandinavia, Alaska and Canada and are somewhat tart, though they’ll turn sweet if they’re left on the branch throughout the winter.
Lingonberries ripen in late summer to fall from dainty, bell-shaped flowers that resemble lily-of-the-valley, and the plant forms dense mats of oval leaves.
The brilliant red berries of the holly tree are famously used during Christmas. The sharp edges of the leaves remind people of the crown of thorns, and the red berries are drops of Jesus’ blood.
Yet, the fact that the holly and its berries hang on to their bright colors all through winter make them symbols of hope. Unfortunately, both the holly leaves and its berries are toxic.
The berries of the red currant plant are as pretty as they are delicious. They are translucent, which means the sun shines through them and makes them glow rather like jewels.
Red currants are ready to pick from the middle of the summer and almost into fall. Red currant is native to Europe but was brought to North America and Asia, where it also grows wild. It’s both tart and sweet and is used to make jams, jellies and fruit soups.
The cranberry is noteworthy because the most cultivated type is harvested from bogs that turn ruby red when the berries are ready for collection. The plant itself is low and spreading, and when the berries are ripe they're larger than the leaves.
Cranberries are famously made into cranberry sauce and enjoyed during Thanksgiving and Christmas in North America and during Christmas in Great Britain. Highbush cranberries do not need to be grown in bogs but are partial to wetlands, and their fruit is sweeter.
The grape too, is a type of berry. It comes in tapering, readily identifiable clusters, and the skin of the red grape gives red and rosé wines their colors. Growing grapes, especially for wine, is an art as well as a science for much depends on the terroir.
Vintners claim the ground must be poor and chalky, for the plant must suffer to produce the best fruit. Grapes, of course, are also delicious eaten out of hand, and many people grow grapes in their garden.
Many people are still surprised to learn that the tomato is a fruit, and not only a fruit but a berry. It matters not that it’s often used as a vegetable. It’s also a member of the nightshade family and was once considered poisonous, and indeed, every part of the plant but the fruit is.
The tomato plant is a vine that can grow as long as 10 feet and is perennial in hot climates. Tomatoes range in size from huge beefsteaks that need two hands to hold them to cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes and oval shaped Roma tomatoes.
American Ginseng Berries
Though the root of the Panax plant has been used medicinally for centuries, its cluster of red berries are found among its three eves, each with five-pointed and toothed leaflets. They appear in the fall.
American Ginseng berries are edible, but they’re tart and don’t have much of a taste. Because of its use as a herbal remedy, the American ginseng is considered rare in some places.
The Jack-in-the-pulpit gets its name because its flower is large and has a hoo that shadows a spadix. This reminds people of a pastor in a covered pulpit. The berries appear in a cluster on the spadix after a complicated fertilization process that requires fungus gnats.
Eventually, the berries turn brilliant red, and the plant goes dormant. Alas, Jack-in-the-pulpit is poisonous unless it’s cooked very thoroughly.
Another regrettably poisonous berry is the red baneberry, Actaea rubra. Its name gives it away, and indeed, the oval berries, which are glossy red, with a tiny black dot on one end, are the most poisonous part of the plant.
Despite this, the plant itself is pretty, with toothed, lobed leaves and white flowers. The berries are harmless to birds and can be used to attract them.
Also called partridgeberry or teaberry, this plant is native to the northern part of North America though it’s found as far south as Alabama. It is related to the heather and the evergreen leaves have a lovely smell of wintergreen.
Like the strawberry, the wintergreen berry isn’t really a berry, but a capsule with a fleshy red covering. They last throughout the winter and are edible and have a pleasing wintergreen taste. The oils are used famously in candy and chewing gum.
The bunchberry is a type of dogwood and the clusters of red berries appear after the white bracts that are often mistaken for flowers. Unlike its cousin the dogwood tree, the bunchberry is used as a ground cover and might only grow to 9 inches tall.
Bunchberries appear in late summer and can last throughout the winter. They are edible and attract birds
Bearberries are native to cold climates and thrive in sandy or gravelly soil. They get their name because bears love the fruit, which also tastes good to humans.
The berries ripen in late fall and though the plant has an abundance of phytochemicals including tannins and glycosides, the berries don’t need to be cooked or processed to be eaten.
Like other elderberries, the berries of the red elder can be eaten, but only if they’re properly cooked. The tiny red berries appear in great clusters on the plant, and their fiery red stands out from the green leaves of the bush.
Elderberries are famous for being turned into delicious syrups and wine.
This plant is related to the tomato and the potato and is found in wet areas and waste places. It is often a vine, and its red berries are egg-shaped and appear after purple, star-shaped flowers tucked among dark green leaves.
Unfortunately, every part of the plant is poisonous, though the berries are a bit less poisonous than the rest of the plant. Bittersweet nightshade is toxic not just to humans but to pets and livestock.
The winterberry is a type of holly, but it differs from lots of hollies in that it is deciduous. This means it loses its leaves in the fall, but it leaves behind an abundance of densely clustered red berries on the bare twigs.
This makes winterberry a spectacular focal point in any winter garden. Many people can’t resist the temptation of bringing in armfuls of the branches for Christmas decorations. Unfortunately, the berries of the winterberry are toxic.
Desert Christmas Cactus Berries
This type of cholla cactus found in the Southwest produces its red berries around December, which most likely led to its name.
The berries are round, flat on one end and tapered on the other. They’re edible, but when they’re eaten they can cause intoxication.
These are just a handful of the red berries produced by plants all over the world. Whether they can be eaten by humans or not, they are important members of the ecosystems where they are found, and give any place a welcome pop of vibrant color.