Cold winter coming?

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or just lots of dogberries this fall?

We’re all familiar with the old adage, “if there’s lots of dogberries then it’s going to be a cold, hard winter.” If that saying holds true we’d better batten down the hatches.

Apparently there are two native species of dogberry, or dogwood, trees in Newfoundland; the American mountain ash and the showy mountain ash. The berries on one are a much darker red than the other, which has brighter orange-red berries.  
— Photo by Allan Stoodley/Special to The Telegram

This year there’s thousands of the bright orange-red berries on the trees. The’re particulrly numerous on the Burin Peninsula, especially in the Grand Beach area.

The reasoning behind being a predictor for severe weather is that a long, cold winter with lots of snow would result in robins and other birds needing extra nourishment to carry them through, thus Mother Nature takes care of that by supplying more berries.

The dogberry trees put on quite a show at this time of the year with their yellowing leaves providing a perfect backdrop for the brilliant coloured berries.

While in this province we refer to these small, deciduous trees or shrubs as dogwood or dogberry trees, elsewhere in North America they are correctly called mountain ash.

We actually have two native species on the island, American mountain ash and  showy mountain ash.

The berries on one of the species is a much darker red than the other and thus at Grand Bank we always refer to the darker berries as “Dogberries” and to the lighter-coloured ones as “catberries.” In reality they are both dogberries.

Often in the past people used the berries to make wine and jelly.  They also provided a favourite sport for young boys and even some girls when dark nights arrived early in the fall to raid the neighbours’ trees to steal “a feed of dogberries.”

Believe me, they didn’t taste very good.

Retired chief justice T. Alex Hickman, who grew up in Grand Bank right across the street from my grandparents’ house, tells the story of he and his young buddies raiding my grandfather’s dogberry trees.

A couple of times some branches were broken so Thomas Stoodley decided it had to stop.  

Grandfather decided, unbeknownst to the boys, that he would hang a cow’s bell up in the tree.

The next dark evening when

T. Alex and company began climbing the dogberry tree, the cow’s bell started to clang loudly.

The startled  teenagers jumped and fell  from the tree landing on top of each and — as we would say — “took off.”

Former Telegram writer Allan Stoodley writes from Grand Bank.

Geographic location: Grand Bank, Grand Beach, North America

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  • Petertwo
    October 29, 2013 - 10:28

    I do not think this year's crops of dogberries are anything other than the natural spreading of seed in order for the specie to continue itself, the same as all flora. Or a sign of a bad winter, but the birds that we had at our feeders have all gone already, only a couple of chickadees, and rascally blue jays, so I suspect we may be in for something.