I can’t think of another shrub that can claim more striking fall colors than the common blueberry (Vaccinium.) Even after 18 inches of snow and several nights of below freezing temperatures this one hung on to its leaves. A shaft of bright sunlight on a cloudy day made it seem as if it was lit from within. Finding such a healthy bush told me that the soil here is most likely a highly acidic, well drained sandy loam.
I had been having a lot of ear trouble and then one day I noticed this maple tree with an old wound that looked very much like an ear. Was it a sign? An interesting fact about trees is that their wounds do not heal like ours do. Instead they are covered over by callus tissue that develops at the edge of the wound and gradually grows inward toward the center. You can actually see how that process takes place in the photo above. While the wound calluses over the tree uses built in natural resistance to fight off insects and disease. This is such a large, deep wound though, that the tree might lose the battle. Wounds like this are excellent points of entry for fungal diseases like those of the turkey tail fungus, below.
I found this bracket (shelf) fungus called turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) growing on an old hemlock stump. This fungus is considered a mushroom and is very common. It is also the bane of the forestry industry because it causes heart or sap rot in trees and is the kiss of death; once the fungus attacks a living tree it cannot be stopped, and the tree will die. On the brighter side, turkey tails have been found to contain a carbohydrate (Polysaccharide-K) that is used in Europe and Japan for the treatment of many types of cancer. Turkey tail is said to biodegrade some types of pollutants and is a favorite food of fungus moth (Nemaxera betulinella) caterpillars.
The pointy clusters of red berries (drupes) of the Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) can be seen everywhere at this time of year. They are an important winter emergency food for many types of birds including Robins, Evening Grosbeaks, Bluebirds, Cardinals, and Scarlet Tanagers. After a thorough soaking and washing, the berries were made into a drink resembling pink lemonade by Native Americans. In the Middle East they are dried and ground into a lemon flavored spice.
Lichens grow on a Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra). Lichens are actually a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and algae or a fungus and bacteria. The fungus, which doesn’t have the ability to produce chlorophyll by photosynthesis, relies on the algae or bacteria, which do produce chlorophyll, for food. Unlike the bracket fungus, they don’t usually harm the trees that they grow on. Lichens are very sensitive to pollutants, so when they are seen in great numbers in an oak grove it means the air quality is good. Many animals feed on lichens and some birds use them for nest building.
The large growth on this Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) trunk is a burl. A burl is a growth defect caused by insects, a virus or fungus, or an injury. Most burls grow underground on a tree’s roots but they can also be found above ground like this one. Inside a burl the grain is twisted, interlocked, and very hard and forms figural patterns that are highly prized by woodworkers, furniture makers, and artists. This burl, larger than a basketball, could be worth hundreds of dollars or even more depending on the grain pattern. Museum quality bowls made from burl are rare and can fetch thousands.
All of these things were seen within a half mile of my house. Why not see what nature has to offer near yours?