Dog­ber­ries and the com­ing snow

It’s been a plen­ti­ful fall for dog­ber­ries, does that mean a harsh win­ter is on its way?

Northern Pen - - EDITORIAL - BY KYLE GREENHAM

ST. AN­THONY, NL – The trees around town are look­ing par­tic­u­larly sprin­kled with red. Like much of the is­land, St. An­thony is hav­ing an abun­dant year for dog­ber­ries.

But the plen­ti­ful sight of these berries of­ten comes along with a warn­ing that a harsh win­ter is on its way.

Dr. Philip His­cock of Memo­rial Univer­sity’s folk­lore de­part­ment in St. John’s says the be­lief that the dog­berry pre­dicts win­ter weather has been spo­ken of for decades.

“It’s been a mat­ter of com­ment for as long as folk­lorists have been col­lect­ing folk be­liefs in this prov­ince,” said His­cock. “The most com­mon be­lief is that if you have a lot of dog­ber­ries, you’re go­ing to have a harsh win­ter – mean­ing lots of snow.”

His­cock says in some parts of the prov­ince, like Fogo Is­land, the ex­act op­po­site be­lief is es­poused. Ac­cord­ing to some, plen­ti­ful dog­ber­ries are a sign that a much calmer win­ter is on its way.

With a his­tory of study­ing the for­est, Troy Mitchell stud­ied the growth of dog­ber­ries in Twill­ingate for sev­eral years. He hoped to learn sev­eral things about the berries for his blog, New­found­land and Na­ture, but his ma­jor con­cern was in find­ing the cor­re­la­tion be­tween dog­ber­ries and win­ter weather – if any.

“I wanted to clar­ify things about the trees, how ed­i­ble they re­ally were, but the big gi­ant ques­tion was around pre­dictabil­ity for win­ter,” Mitchell said.

Af­ter track­ing the amount of berries and the win­ter that fol­lowed for years, Mitchell con­cluded there was no dis­cern­able link.

“In watch­ing it for years, I’ve never seen a link that car­ries it to be true,” said Mitchell. “With many berries it’s gone both ways, and with few berries it’s gone both ways. It’s to­tally ran­dom.”

Mitchell sus­pects this tale around dog­ber­ries and weather orig­i­nates with the be­lief that an abun­dance of berries means birds need to be fed ex­tra well in harsh weather. There­fore, the more berries na­ture pro­duces for the birds, the rougher the win­ter will be.

Along with this nat­u­ral­is­tic ob­ser­va­tion, His­cock says plants as pre­dic­tors of weather is a com­mon fea­ture across Canada.

“The Saska­toon berry out on the prairies has al­most the same folk­lore as­so­ci­a­tions with predicting weather as the dog­berry does here,” said His­cock. “In some places, black berries are said to the pre­dic­tor.”

This cor­re­la­tion also ex­tends into an­i­mals, and even in­sects.

“In New Brunswick, peo­ple will say the height of hor­net nests will de­ter­mine the win­ter weather,” His­cock said. “The idea here is that an­i­mals know what the win­ter is go­ing to be like, and they find ways to work around it.”

Us­age of the dog­berry in New­found­land and Labrador ex­tends well be­yond a sup­posed fore­telling of weather. His­cock says the berries are also used in fine wines and jel­lies, as well mak­ing dec­o­ra­tive wreaths

One pe­cu­liar folk­lore be­lief sur­round­ing dog­ber­ries is that they are a par­tic­u­larly in­tox­i­cat­ing fruit for birds.

“One I some­times hear is about the ‘drunk birds’,” said His­cock. “I’ve heard peo­ple say in early spring or late win­ter the dog­ber­ries have ac­tu­ally fer­mented and the birds will get drunk off them.

“I don’t know the truth to that, but it’s a nice piece of folk­lore that goes around.”

KYLE GREENHAM / THE NORTH­ERN PEN

Ac­cord­ing to many, an au­tumn with an abun­dance of dog­ber­ries means an abun­dance of snow­fall is also on its way. Folk­lorist Dr. Philip His­cock says this be­lief has been around for as long as folk­lorists have been col­lect­ing the be­liefs of the prov­ince.

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