Nfld. & Labrador

The case of the missing dogberry: Does this mean a mild winter?

We ask garden expert Ross Traverse why dogberry branches are bare this year. Will the old adage hold true and bring a mild winter?

'It's a bit unusual to have none,' says plant expert Ross Traverse

The usual splash of crimson colour is missing from dogberry trees this year, leading people to wonder about winter. (CBC News)

For those of us mourning our glorious summer and dreading a dismal winter, take heart. It might not be that bad. 

That is, if you believe dogberries can predict the future. 

You've heard it before, that old wives' tale that says when dogberries are plentiful, winter will be harsh, but if berries are scant, winter will be mild. This could be the year to put that old adage to the test. 

Ross Traverse can't remember a year when dogberries have been this sparse. (CBC News)

Plant and garden expert Ross Traverse says he can't remember when dogberries have been as scarce as this year.

"It is a bit unusual to have none … there's usually a few."

But are dogberries really like temperature-telling tea leaves? Nature's forecasting? Should Ryan Snoddon fear for his job?

Nope. Traverse said the abundance, or lack, of dogberries tells us about the past, not the future. Empty branches only mean last July was unusually cold. 

2015 saw an abundance of dogberries, but a cold July hampered trees from forming flower buds. (Submitted by Sandra Blackmore)

July is the month when dogberry trees establish flower buds for the next year.

"Last year had a very big crop of dogberries," Traverse told CBC's Here & Now.

"Every tree was loaded. And that takes a lot of energy … and last year in July it was really cold and so a lot of flower buds didn't set."

No buds, no berries

Lots of buds on dogberry trees right now. Traverse said it means a big crop next year. (CBC News)

Right now, however, one look at the trees tells Traverse there will be a good crop of dogberries next year. There are plenty of flower buds.

"All set up for next year, lots of dogberries next year."

He said the dogberry myth may be connected to birds. A big stock of berries helps birds survive a long, harsh winter. Less food is needed when winter is mild. 

With files from Here & Now