Natural History Notes

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

persimmon trees and briar patches

I was questioned about how I could walk into a briar patch dense enough to hide a persimmon tree. The answer is, it depends on the briars, and the way in which the tree is hidden. In the north pasture at the Ridge there has always been a central patch of woods, referred to by Isabel as the persimmon grove. I have known for some time of a group of persimmon trees on the east (upper) side of the trees, though in the main, the grove is hackberry, ash, oak, plum, etc. But these known 'simmon trees are all male, and thus non-bearing.

In the last three decades or so, the pasture was invaded by blackberries, to where the western half got to be almost solid with them. In the nineties, Nolan fought his little old tractor through and made a path near the west fence, which I kept open for several seasons, but of late it became solid briarpatch again. Between the central grove and the west fence, scattered among the brambles, are a good many smallish trees that like damper conditions, as this is where the drainage runs. Besides the other species mentioned, there are willow, cottonwood, pecan -- none very large except for the huge pecan in the northwest corner, Pines from the Holmans’ property are moving in at the southwest corner.

In the spring of 2009, Eddie and Stephen performed herculean labors and mowed down almost all of the blackberries on the west side, leaving a crunchy, spiky “mulch” some inches thick of chopped up half-inch canes. That was a very dry year, and there was very little regrowth except in the southwest corner, nearest the tank. This spring, they fairly easily re-mowed it, except in that same corner, where standing water (it was a VERY wet spring) defeated them.

I would never have tried to walk into the remnants of the original head-high thicket! I’m not sure even rabbits can fit into that. But the regrowth area looks deceptively possible to move through. NOT. Sunday afternoon I mowed a section by the female persimmon tree, and the contrast between the mowed part and the remainder makes it more clear how much of a thicket it really is.

Besides the scrawny little persimmon tree in the center of this picture, I also found a few more, based on the bark appearance. One of them appeared to have a single little round fruit hanging on a branch, way up where I couldn’t really see for sure what it was. It was a tree about twice the size of the one that I’m certain of.

So. Persimmons of both sexes now definitely go on the species list. Also Bidens frondosa, seeds of which I picked up LIBERAL-
LY in my socks.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving arctic front

So there I was at 5:30 this Thanksgiving morning, putting the (huge!) turkey in the oven, wearing thin shorts and a skimpy t-shirt, barefoot; the temperature outside the same 70° it had been all night. Then WHOOSH, the expected front came by, right on time. The oven kept the house warm for a bit, but then it was cooling fast. At 8:00, chilled, I got in bed to warm up for a bit, and woke up two hours later! Went and turned the furnace on then, and it has been working all day to keep the house up to the sixties. Of course it would help if I would get the ladder in from the Ridge so I could get up on the office roof and close that north louver vent. Maybe I'll ask if I can go out Joy's window.

The sun just set, and the temp is supposed to plummet to around 25°. Still a few potted plants on the terrace here and in the front yard at the Ridge. Guess I better get out there and rescue them, and feed the horse. I chopped back the almond verbena and lemon verbena last night, covered the herbs with a big pile of leaves and a tarp. Almond verbena is supposed to need some winter protection, but I don't know how much. Maybe I can get some cuttings to root from what I cut off.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Brer Rabbit I'm not

Third week in November (I know, I know, I haven't posted in forever!) and the temperature is in the high seventies! But there's an Arctic front a-comin', and Thursday night is predicted to be a hard freeze in the low twenties. Appropriate for Thanksgiving. Guess the scarlet sage might finally give up.

I had something of a low-key adventure yesterday at the Ridge. I went for a walk at 4:20 and got back in the dusk at 5:50. More than an hour, I think, of that hour and a half was spent moving step by careful step, working my way out of the briar-patch (that is, mostly blackberry briars, though of course, greenbriers were mixed in there) that I got myself into. I spent a lot of time figuring out how to pick up my feet high enough to step down on one or another thorny stem, without losing my balance while teetering on one foot. I was absolutely DETERMINED that I was NOT going to lose my balance and fall into the stuff, and I didn't, partly I think by pure willpower.

The really cool thing was the tree I found midway through. I found it because of the snake. As I stepped down on one tangle and caused it to shift, I realized there was a pale green 18-inch stripe moving along the stems, not very fast. I reached down and caught the rear part of it and looked at it for a bit -- a lovely snake with a grass-green back and yellow belly, maybe 3/8" thick (probably a Rough Green Snake, Opheodrys aestivus).
After I put it back down on the stems and it started slithering away, I kept an eye on it. It disappeared after a bit into some denser leaves, and there seemed to be something in the clump of leaves that was sort of solid and blackish, with maybe a little reddish tinge. Eventually I realized it was a couple of persimmons! For years and years I have been looking for the female persimmon tree that has to be here, because I find lots of scat full of the seeds, but I have never found any but male flowering trees. But now I know where it is. Next year I'll get a path mowed to it and get there when there are more fruits on the tree.

So I finally escaped, though my shins are a bit perforated even through my jeans. I was rewarded by a quietly spectacular walk through the orange-tinted tall seed-stems of the grass south of the pond, in one of those gold-salmon-mauve sunsets that makes everything ruddy, especially if the oak leaves and grass stems are tending that way already. No camera to hand, and it probably wouldn't have looked real anyway.

This is my persimmon harvest.

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