Nature on our doorstep: When is a berry not a berry?

Nature on our doorstep: When is a berry not a berry?

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures.

As colder weather settles in, birds flock to the store of berries in our hedgerows.  

nature collage
Hawthorn flowers in Springtime (L) and Hawthorn pom-type fruit (R)

A very important food source for blackbirds and thrushes is the fruit of the hawthorn, the haw.

The haw is generally referred to as being a berry, but it is more correct to call this fruit a ‘pome’.

This term originates from the Latin word ‘poma’, meaning apple, and is used to describe fruit that has the general structure and developmental process of an apple.


Fruit develop from fertilised flowers.  After pollination, the petals usually drop away, leaving the different internal parts of the flower to transform into the final shape and flesh of the fruit.  

This process varies between different plant families, but with pome-type fruit such as haws, apples and pears, the shriveled-up remains of the bud leaves and the female and male parts of the flower (the stigma and stamen) can sometimes be seen at the bottom end of the fruit, opposite the stem.  

Birds, of course, are more concerned with the food value of haws rather than the details of how they form!  

In harsh autumns and winters, thrushes will often guard a particularly well-laden hawthorn bush, chasing away other birds that come to feed on its chosen food store.