It may seem dull and grey out there in November, but if you know where to look, there is plenty of color still to be found.
Sadly, not all of the color is good. Here we have a classic example. That beautiful rosy glow you see in the woods below is caused by Japanese barberry. You know the plant – it’s the one landscapers often plant at places like grocery store parking lots, where it will make a colorful splash and not be eaten by deer. It has thorns, you see, which make it well nigh deer-proof. Unfortunately, birds will eat the little red berries the plant produces and later on poop them out, which results in the scene below. Take home message: don’t plant Japanese barberry in your landscape, for it will take over the woods all around you.
These red berries, however, are ones we are very happy to see. They are from our native spicebush (Lindera benzoin). Although not blessed with thorns of any kind, this shrub is often touted as being fairly deer-proof, too. I first met spicebush during my very first naturalist internship, twenty-three years ago! We walked past the lone shrub with every school group and plucked a leaf to pass around so each student could smell its light, aromatic scent (I wonder if that plant is still around). We would then tell the students how this unassuming shrub was once very important to the early settlers, for they used it to spice up their foods (the berries, dried and powdered, substituted for all spice, and the dried bark served as a replacement for cinnamon), earning it the name “wild allspice” . It was also part of the colonists’ medicinal arsenal, helping treat colds, dysentery, and even intestinal parasites. Today it is mostly used as an ornamental shrub, which suits the spicebush swallowtail, one of our butterflies, just fine – this is the host plant for its larvae.
And just when you think all the flowers have stopped blooming, you run into the spidery yellow blossoms of witch hazel (Hammamelis virginiana). This is another plant I met during my first internship and haven’t seen since. And yes, witch hazel is the plant from which the antiseptic, also known as witch hazel, was made. Is it still made from this plant, or is it all derived from chemicals these days? Witch hazel is famous for helping shrink/contract blood vessels, making it idea for treating cuts, bruises and even piles.
Now here is a beauty that I’m willing to be few of you have ever seen. This is not a flower, despite what it looks like. Nope, this is the fruit pod of the eastern wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus), which is in the bittersweet family. How beautiful is this! We have a specimen of this small tree on the property, and its identity came as a wonderful surprise to our staff. Unlike the other wahoo, or burning bush, this species is native and one that we want to have around.
We had a bit of rain Tuesday morning, so I tried to capture some of the droplets on the grasses out on the prairie. Invariably, as soon as I got out my macro lens, the wind started to blow. I really need to get myself a wind box.
One of my goals, photographically, is to photograph, successfully, the reflections inside raindrops. I almost succeeded with this double droplet image:
And here is Asian bittersweet – it is easy to see how it is related to the eastern wahoo. This colorful vine, however, is personna non grata – highly invasive. Not only that, but it hybridizes with our native bittersweet, which is very difficult to find anymore.
As you can see, there is still plenty of color out there in the woods. All you have to do is put on your walking shoes and take a stroll along our trails. Walk slowly and keep your eyes open. Look up. Look deep into the woods. You just never know what you might find.