The Fruits of Fall

by Andrea Laine, Durham County Extension Master Gardener

Fall is a time when you see more fruits than flowers.

When I see Heart’s-a-bustin’ (Euonymus americanus) this time of year, I forget all about flowers. The brightly-colored fruits burst open in September and October while still firmly attached to the plant stems. The sight is as pretty as any flower display may be.

Photo credit: Andrea Laine

“The pink warty fruits and orange to scarlet seeds brighten the forest  understory in autumn,” writes Timothy P. Spira in a guide to wildflowers. Agreed!

The fruit is in the form of a capsule which is a dry fruit that splits open at maturity to reveal berries. Photo credit: Andrea Laine


Physical attributes and environmental conditions

Hearts-a-bustin’ is an erect woody shrub native to the Piedmont region of the southeast United States. It generally grows to a height of 4 to 6 feet. It is common in moist to dry forests including alluvial forests, cove forests and oak-hickory forests. It is a member of the Bittersweet family. Another common name for it is strawberry bush.

While relatively tolerant of shade, it flowers and fruits best in partial to full sun. The flowers (tiny and white with five petals appearing in May to June) are pollinated by short-tongued bees and flies.

Various songbirds, wild turkeys and white-tailed deer eat the fruits and disperse the seeds. It also spreads by root suckers. Deer will also browse the stems.

Euonymous americanus in Spring to illustrate the structure and growth habit of this shrub. By the time the fruits appear most of the leaves will have fallen. Photo credit: Steven J. Baskauf

Other native plants with showy fruits

Here are a few images of other native plants with showy fruits. Of course, there are many more examples in our midst. Before the changing leaf colors steal the show, notice the colorful fruits of autumn!


Purple berries dangle from individual petioles under the stem of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum).  Photo credit: Andrea Laine.
American beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) is striking with pink or white berries (not on same plant). Photo credit: Andrea Laine


Spira, T.P. (2011). Wildflowers & plant communities of the southern Appalachian mountains & Piedmont. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.