On September 17, 2019, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and nationwide, the United States Postal Service will issue the Winter Berries stamps (Forever priced at the first-class mail rate) in four designs, in pressure-sensitive adhesive booklets of 20 stamps. On August 22, the USPS announced that Tulsa first-day event would be held at 11 a.m. at the A.R. and Marylouise Tandy Floral Terraces at the Tulsa Botanic Garden, 3900 Tulsa Botanic Drive, with USPS Acting Vice President of Pricing and Costing Steven R. Phelps as the presiding postal official.
The Winter Berries booklet of 20 stamps celebrates four of winter’s small, yet vibrant offerings: the winterberry (Ilex verticillata); the juniper berry (Juniperus communis); the beautyberry (Callicarpa americana); and the soapberry (Sapindus saponaria).
Native to North America, winterberry holly loses its leaves each autumn, after which “you are left with a breathtaking view of thousands of brightly colored berries clinging to every stem,” according to the internet’s “Plant Hunter,” Tim Wood. Its native range is impressive, he notes, “from Nova Scotia, south to Florida and west to Missouri. . . Though it is most commonly found in moist soils, it can also be grown quite successfully in average garden soils.”
A juniper berry is not a true berry but the female seed cone produced by junipers, which are coniferous trees and shrubs found in the Northern Hemisphere around the world. The unusually fleshy cone has merged scales, giving it a berry-like appearance. Of many species, Juniperus communis specifically is used as a spice, particularly in European cuisine, and also gives gin its distinctive flavor. “Another drink made from the berries,” notes Wikipedia, “is a Julmust, a soft drink made in Sweden mainly sold during Christmas.”
Also known as French mulberry, American beautyberry is native to 14 mostly eastern states. According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, “It can reach nine feet in height in favorable soil and moisture conditions . . . but its most striking feature are the clusters of glossy, iridescent-purple fruit (sometimes white) which hug the branches at leaf axils in the fall and winter . . . The seeds and berries are important foods for many species of birds, particularly the Northern Bobwhite. Foliage is a favorite of White-tailed Deer.”
Least lovely of the four, soapberries refer to “five to twelve species of shrubs and small trees in the Lychee family, Sapindaceae, native to warm temperate to tropical regions of the world. The genus includes both deciduous and evergreen species. Members of the genus are commonly known as soapberries or soapnuts because the fruit pulp is used to make soap.” Two subspecies of the plant on the stamp are native to northern Mexico and “from Arizona across to Louisiana in the south ranging north to Kansas and far southwestern Missouri in the north,” says Wikipedia, while the second is “native almost exclusively to far south Florida in the United States but also occurs in an isolated area of coastal southeast Georgia . . . and [the] island of Hawaii.”
The stamp art features exquisitely detailed botanical portraits of each plant that highlight the bold colors and rich textures of their berries. Artist Steve Buchanan worked with art director Antonio Alcalá to create these four new stamps.
Do the Winter Berries qualify as Christmas stamps? Technically, no, although the production quantity of 300 million implies plans for wide circulation and use. It’s interesting to look back and see, however, that where the first 4¢ U.S. Christmas issue in 1962 (Scott 1205) depicted a wreath without berries, the third Christmas issue of four 5¢ stamps in 1964 pictured four different plants, each of them bearing unmistakable fruit (Scott 1254–57).
Fruit with a seasonal tie-in appeared 55 years ago on this 5¢ Christmas quartet, Scott 1257e. The 1964 stamps showed both Holly and Mistletoe with berries, a Poinsettia with its cyanthia (or “false flowers”) at the center of the leaves and a sprig of Conifer bearing a large cone.
Postmark customers have 120 days to obtain the first-day-of-issue postmark by mail. They may purchase new stamps at their post office or online at usps.com/shop. They must affix the stamps to envelopes of their choice, address the envelopes to themselves or others, and place them in a larger envelope with adequate mint U.S. postage addressed to:
FDOI — Winter Berries Stamps
USPS Stamp Fulfillment Services
8300 NE Underground Drive, Suite 300
Kansas City, MO 64144-9900
After applying the first-day-of-issue postmark, the USPS will return the envelopes through the mail. There is no charge for up to 50 postmarks, but there is a 5¢ charge for each additional postmark over 50. All orders must be postmarked by January 17, 2020.