Falling Into Winter

We’re on the back side of fall and sliding into winter. There’s still much going on out-of-doors with lots to see if you keep an eye open to it. Here’s some of what I’ve been seeing.

Asters are late summer and fall blooming flowers. They’re still blooming in the garden in front of our Butterfly House.

Asters still in bloom.

Red buckeye fruit have already burst open spilling their large brown seeds (buckeyes) to the ground.

Red buckeye fruit.
Red buckeye.
There may be 1-4 “buckeyes” in each fruit.

Several common snapping turtle hatchlings were spotted both this and last month making their way to the wetlands. The eggs were deposited during summer in the clay soil surrounding our wetland. After 80 or 90 days they hatch and the miniature snappers instinctively head towards water.

Common snapping turtle hatchling.

We have nearly a dozen dawn redwoods growing on campus, most notably along the boardwalk leading to Explore the Wild. The cones produced by the tree are about 3/4” – 1” and carry the next generation of trees within. It’s a deciduous tree and is sometimes confused with the native bald cypress. Among other differences, dawn redwood’s needles, or leaves, are opposite one another on the twigs while the cypress’ needles are alternate.

Dawn redwood cone.
Redwood cone, dried and split with seeds.

Pyracantha, or firethorn, puts forth copious amounts of orange-red fruit in fall which may last well into winter. Flocks of birds such as American robin and cedar waxwing have been known to devour the fruit of large plantings of firethorn in just one sitting.

Firethorn (the “fire” part).
Firethorn (the thorn).

Flowering dogwood produces bright red fruit in fall. Many birds and other animals eat the fruit.

Flowering dogwood fruit.

Hazel alder is a shrub which grows along water courses throughout our area. It produces seed carrying cones which look like tiny pine cones. After opening and spilling their seeds to the ground the 1/2” – 3/4” cones typically may remain on the plant for a year or more.

Fresh green alder cones.
The seeds within.
Alder cones from previous year.

Common milkweed’s seeds are dispersed by the wind. The large seed pods split open allowing the wind to carry the silk-tufted seeds far from the mother plant.

Milkweed pod with seeds.
Large milkweed bug nymphs.

Milkweed is known to attract many kinds of insects throughout the seasons. The red, seed-eating, large milkweed bug is just one of them.

Milkweed bug nymphs on seed pod. There is one adult large milkweed bug on left side of mass.

The much planted southern magnolia is common across North Carolina. It’s seeds are bright red and eaten by squirrels and several species of bird.

Magnolia seeds.

Mistletoe, with it’s white berries and evergreen leaves, is locally common. If you can get close to the plant (it’s often in the upper reaches of trees) you may be able to see how the parasitic plant attaches itself to and grows from the branches of its host.

Mistletoe berries.

To start, the sticky seeds within the berries may become attached to a tree branch through the action of birds wiping their bills on the branch after having eaten berries or through the deposition of bird feces after birds have consumed the fruit. Either way, once a seed is secured to the branch it sends out a tap root into the host. And from there, it slowly grows.

Fresh young sprout.
Female mistletoe flowers.

Acorns are the fruit of oak trees “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.

Acorn.

Partridge pea is a native legume, and as such, annually puts forth pods full of seeds. The pods twist as they dry, splitting the pod along its seams, sending the seeds into the air and onto the ground.

Fresh green partridge pea pod and dried, split pod.

Persimmon trees can be male or female. If the tree has fruit it’s probably a female. We have both on our campus and they’re wide-spread. The fruit is a favorite of wildlife. During fall, I frequently run into scat from raccoons or fox who have eaten a persimmon or two. The wildlife carry the seeds far from the mother tree, planting new trees as they go.

Persimmon on tree.
Persimmon seeds in rain-washed scat.

By no means native, we have a pomegranate tree or shrub growing next to Magic Wings Butterfly House. Pomegranates originated in the Middle East and South Asia region and were brought to the Western Hemisphere by the Spanish.

Our pomegranates are rather small compared to the ones you might see in the produce department of your local grocer.

Pomegranate fruit.

There’s been a slew of articles written about how to remove the seeds from pomegranates. When left to themselves, pomegranates remove their own seeds by splitting open and dropping them to the ground.

How they remove their own seeds.

Like the partridge pea above, redbud is a legume. It’s an early blooming, small tree. Though most people would consider it a southern tree, it’s Latin name, Cercis canadensis, indicates it grows as far north as Canada.

Redbod seed pods.
Redbud seeds.

Have a nice day outdoors.

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