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Posts Tagged ‘Poke Berry’

Or at least this post is. As this early morning view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows, our trees are starting to change into their fall colors. The trees on the far side of the pond start very early and that’s my signal to start watching for color wherever I go. Our foliage colors usually peak around the first week of October, but warm weather can slow down the process and cool weather can speed it up.

Right now the colors are spotty and seen just here and there but changes can happen fast so I usually keep a camera close at this time of year. I thought this red maple was worth a photo or two.

Another maple was yellow. Maples are usually our most colorful trees in the fall and come in reds, yellows and various shades of orange.

I could see the sky and the clouds and the earth and the shining sun in this mussel shell. Raccoons regularly fish in the Ashuelot River and one of them probably ate the mussel and left the shell for anyone who happened along to admire. Its colors were beautiful.

Also beautiful are pokeweed berries (Phytolacca americana) when they ripen to their deep purple-black. I love seeing the little purple “flowers” on the back of pokeweed berries. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

Heavy with ripe red fruit is false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa.) I see large bunches of these berries everywhere I go, so it’s going to be a good year for birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters. These berries are bright red when fully ripe and speckled green and red as they ripen. You can still see 3 or 4 unripe berries in this bunch. Soil pH can affect fruit color and not all berries will be the same shade of red. Native American’s used all parts of this plant.

Most staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) are still green but this one had already gone to red. Sumacs are one of our most colorful shrubs in the fall. They can range from lemon yellow to pumpkin orange to tomato red, and anything in between.

The reason invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) have been so successful at spreading throughout the countryside is because people have planted them extensively for fall color, making it easy for birds to find the berries for food. Most burning bushes start out red like this example.

As fall progresses burning bushes in the wild will turn from red to a pinkish magenta…

..and will finally turn the palest pastel pinkish lavender just before the leaves fall. These three photos of burning bush foliage were taken at the same time and place but the 3 branches were on different plants.

Our native highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are a good alternative to invasive burning bushes. They also often turn bright scarlet in the fall, but will also show shades of orange, yellow and plum purple. Purple is a common color in the fall. A Washington Post article last year said that “Studies have suggested that the earliest photosynthetic organisms were plum-colored, because they relied on photosynthetic chemicals that absorbed different wavelengths of light.”

Even poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) turns purple occasionally but it is more common to see it wearing red in the fall.

Silky dogwood berries (Cornus amomum) go from green to white and then from white to blue. Once they are blue and fully ripe birds eat them up quickly, so I was surprised to see them.

Bright red bittersweet nightshade berries (Solanum dulcamara) look like tiny Roma tomatoes, but they’re very toxic and shouldn’t be eaten. Red has the longest wavelength of all the colors and it is the easiest color to distinguish, unless you happen to be colorblind.

Blue is my favorite color and I was able to see plenty of it in this view from a cornfield in Keene. I read recently that 40 percent of people choose blue as their favorite color. Purple is next with only 14 percent.

There are other places to see the color blue as well; many plants like the black raspberry cane (Rubus occidentalis) pictured here use the same powdery, waxy white bloom as a form of protection against moisture loss and sunburn. On plants like black raspberries, blue stemmed goldenrod, smoky eye boulder lichens, grapes and plums, the bloom can appear to be very blue in the right kind of light. Finding such a beautiful color in nature is always an unexpected pleasure.

The bloom on grapes and plums can mean they’re ripe, and these grapes were. Soon the woods will smell like grape jelly from all the fermenting grapes.

Maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) isn’t offered by nurseries but I’ve always though it should be. It’s a very low growing shrub; I think the tallest one I’ve seen might have reached 3 feet. It has white flowers at the branch ends in the spring but I’ve always thought that fall was when it was most beautiful because of the amazing range of colors in its leaves.

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) has started its long, slow change from green to red. Though some trees and bushes seem to change color overnight, Virginia creeper won’t be rushed. This example was just entering its bronze stage.

This beautiful shade of red is what most Virginia creeper vines will look like before their leaves fall.

This pale tussock moth caterpillar was very hairy, and very beautiful. I don’t see as many of these as I do the hickory tussock moth caterpillar. That one is everywhere this year and I see several whenever I go out for a walk.

I’m happy to say that, over the past 3 or 4 weeks, I’ve seen many monarch butterflies. I can’t say if they’re making a comeback but I’ve seen more this year than I have in the past 5 years combined. I’ve seen at least one each day for the past couple of weeks.

I think that to one in sympathy with nature, each season, in turn, seems the loveliest. ~Mark Twain

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1. Winterberries

The weather has been terrible here since last Sunday with pouring rain almost every day, so I’ve had to break open my hoard of nut, berry and seed photos for this post.  As the above photo shows the winterberry bushes (Ilex verticillata) are heavily laden with fruit this year, and that comes after a barren winter last year when they hardly showed a single berry. Many trees and shrubs will have a barren year after exhausting themselves with a year of heavy production and some, like certain species of oak, can take several years to recover from a heavy fruiting.

2. Winterberries

If you are trying to attract wildlife to your yard and have a pond or a swampy area on your land then winterberry is an excellent choice of native shrub. They like very wet soil and, like other hollies, need male and female plants to produce berries. Because the berries have a low fat content birds and animals eat them quite late in the season, so the berries will color the landscape for most of the winter.

3. Grapes

Wild grapes are a favorite of everything from blue jays to black bears but the wildlife doesn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to eat them this year. This was a great year for all types of fruit, nuts and seeds and I suppose they know what they’re doing better than I do.

4. Pokeweed Berries

Pokeberries (Phytolacca americana) are also withering on the frost killed plants. I found out last fall that birds usually snap these up just as soon as they ripen. I wanted to get a photo of the ripe berries but every time I went to take one the birds had eaten every one. I’ve read that birds can get quite drunk from fermented pokeweed berries so maybe that’s why they’re avoiding them. I ran into a drunken cedar waxwing one day and I’ve never forgotten how it flew right at my face and then pulled up at the last second. It seemed to be a bit of a lush because it did this over and over until I moved away from the berries it wanted.

5. Hemlock Cone

The seeds of eastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) are eaten by small birds like black capped chickadees and pine siskins, and several species of warblers like to nest in the dense foliage. Bigger birds like turkeys, owls and grouse will often roost in the branches. Hemlocks are very good at shedding rain because of the way their branches grow. I’ve stood under them in quite heavy rains and barely felt a drop. That’s a good thing to keep in mind if you’re out with a camera and it starts raining.

6. Aster Seed Heads

Aster seeds get eaten quickly, it seems. Goldfinches and other small birds will land on the plants and in the process of eating their fill will knock enough seeds to the ground to take care of the bigger ground feeders.

Though we have been conditioned by seed and feeder salesmen to believe that birds won’t make it through winter without our help, nature takes care of her own. There is nothing wrong with feeding birds but unless we have an unusually harsh winter they will do just fine without our help.

7. Milkweed Seeds

Milkweed seeds apparently aren’t eaten by anything, which seems odd. Or if they are we don’t know much about it because I’ve searched and searched and haven’t found a single reference to these seeds being used as food by anything. It must be because of the toxins in the plant. Though I don’t know how much toxin is in the seeds I do know that the seeds in some poisonous plants carry some of the highest concentrations.

8. Thistle

Bull thistle seed (Cirsium vulgare) is another favorite of birds like goldfinches, but how they get them without being stabbed by all of those spines is a mystery to me. In Europe part of the Latin name of the European goldfinch Carduelis means “eats seeds of thistle.”

9. Burdock Seed Heads

We all know how burdocks (Arctium) get their barbs into our clothes, but what we might not think much about is how those same barbs can also catch on the feathers of small birds when they land on the plants to eat the seeds.

10. Bittersweet

The orange berries and yellow bracts of oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) are pleasing to see, but when birds, mice, voles, rabbits, squirrels, and an army of other berry eaters eat the fruit, they help it spread. These berries seem to be loved by all including humans, and that’s why it has become so invasive. This vine is so tough it can choke trees to death and I’ve seen it do just that numerous times.

11. Twisted Beech

Here’s an example of what oriental bittersweet can do to a young beech tree.

 12. Hickory Nut

I haven’t seen many beechnuts this year but we have plenty of acorns, hazel, and hickory nuts like the one in the above photo. Nuts are important foods for many birds and animals including wood ducks, woodpeckers, foxes, squirrels, beavers, cottontails, chipmunks, turkeys, white-tailed deer, black bears, mice, and raccoons.  The name hickory comes from the word pohickery which, according to Captain John Smith of Jamestown, is from the Algonquin Indian word pawcohiccora, a drink that the Native Americans made from the crushed nutmeat.

If you seek the kernel, then you must break the shell. And likewise, if you would know the reality of Nature, you must destroy the appearance, and the farther you go beyond the appearance, the nearer you will be to the essence. ~Meister Eckhart

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