Oriental Bittersweet: November Fruit

When the bright red and gold leaves of the Fall have fallen by the middle of November, there remains another red and gold attraction in Eliza Howell Park: the fruit of the Oriental Bittersweet.

20191119_084715

20181107_105601

Though there are still a few remaining honeysuckle berries that the birds have not quite finished, bittersweet can be considered the last fruit of the season. As recently as September, it showed little indication of the starring role it would later play.

20180909_135404

Oriental Bittersweet is a vine that was brought to this country in the 1800s and has now spread widely. There is also a native North American Bittersweet vine, but the ones that I watch in Eliza Howell are the Oriental variety. It grows and spreads rapidly and can climb dozens of feet. The next picture shows the twinning nature of the vine; the following one gives an indication of its ability to climb trees.

20191118_104444

20191119_220307 (1)

The outer seed covering totally hides the fruit inside until late Fall. Birds are not attracted until the outer shells begin to open, allowing access to the red fruit, usually after the bittersweet leaves have already fallen. 

20191119_085144

The gold shell, which opens in three parts, remains attached for a time (contributing to the attractive red and gold look) and later drops to the ground. The red fruit may hang on well into winter.

20191120_141759

Though Oriental Bittersweet might make for an attractive home decoration at this time of the year, people are rightly advised not to pick and transfer. Unless the seeds are very carefully disposed of, new plants could sprout, spreading the aggressive and hard-to-control vine. It is considered an invasive plant that may damage the environment.

The word “bittersweet” means pleasure accompanied by some negative feelings, sweet with a bitter aftertaste. The pleasure of seeing the red and gold fruit of Oriental Bittersweet can indeed be a bittersweet experience.

 

The River, the Season, the Weather: Tracking Fall 2019

I often stop on the footbridge during my walks in Eliza Howell Park, stop and take a picture, looking upstream the Main branch of the Rouge River. These pictures help me track seasonal changes and fluctuations in water level.

Below are 8 photos taken on different days during the four weeks from October 16 to November 13, 2019. Some from sunny days and some from cloudy days, these pictures presdent the progress of Fall this year.

October 16, 2019  (9:47 a.m.   Approximately 50 degrees F)20191114_172805

October 20, 2019 (3:04 p.m.   Approximately 60 degrees F)20191020_150414

October 24, 2019  (11:23 a.m.  Approximately 50 degrees F)20191024_112318

October 27, 2019   (11:57 a.m.  Approximately 45 degrees F)20191027_115727

November 1, 2019   (9:31 a.m.   Approximately 35 degrees F)20191114_173423

November 4, 2019   (10:22 a.m.   Approximately 45 degrees F)20191104_102257

November 8, 2019   (10:07 a.m.   Approximately 25 degrees F) 20191114_173718

November 13, 2019   (10:52 a.m.   Approximately 15 degrees)20191113_124144

The changes from the middle of October to the middle of November, always dramatic along the river in Eliza Howell Park, were even more dramatic this year because of the unusually heavy snow of November 11.

 

Pokeweed: Another Fall Berry

Pokeweed is a large perennial wildflower that emerges in the spring, but for most of the season is not among my regular stopping places during my walks in Eliza Howell Park. In the Fall, however, it definitely gets my attention.

It is the combination of the red stalks/stems and the bright fruit clusters that calls it to my attention.

20191028_122255

Pokeweed can grow quite tall (the one below is at least 8 feet high) and looks like a bush. The color in the branches and in the flower/seed clusters becomes more bright as the season progresses.

20191027_180802

The flowers are small and, while attractive, do not seem to appear very often among wildflower photos.

20191026_144950

The fruit is the biggest attraction for berry watchers like me. The flower cluster becomes a cluster of berries – green to red-ish to dark purple.

20191027_182919

Pokeweed is a native plant of North America, often found at the edges of tree lines and in disturbed ground. It is spread by seeds. (Range map is from USDA.)

20191027_165000

All parts of the plans (roots, shoots, leaves, fruit) are poisonous, although it has historically been used as a food at times (after very careful preparation) and as a medicine. Many birds and some mammals eat the berries and do not suffer the same ill effects as humans do from eating the raw berries. (Pokeweed often grows in yards and there have been cases of children getting ill after sampling the berries.)

Each berry has about 10 seeds.

20191027_173821

By the end of October, the seed clusters are largely devoid of berries.

20191027_173939

There are many Fall berries in Eliza Howell Park, mostly growing on vines or on shrubs. Pokeweed is not nearly so common here as Bittersweet or Honeysuckle, but it is definitely one worth noting.

 

 

A Sunny Morning in Late October

The early morning sun was shining and there was a combination of dew and frost on the ground when I arrived at Detroit’s Eliza Howell Park on October 28, 2019. Here are a few images from the next three hours.

Bittersweet on Oak Tree

Bittersweet vines grow high on some trees in the park, most noticeable when the leaves of the vine turn yellow.

20191028_142441

Dew Drop on Sumac

In the blow up, one can clearly see the reflections.

20191028_083716

20191028_141258

Three Hundred Year Old Bur Oak Tree

I stopped by a massive Bur Oak that has been estimated to be over 300 years old.

20191028_143009

Rouge River from Footbridge

I often take a picture from this spot, looking upstream. The look of the river changes with the season, the sunlight/clouds, and the water level.

20191028_144245

A Walk in the Woods

20191028_102021

20191028_104348

Sugar Maple

Several Sugar Maple trees, seen from the park road, have inspired park visitors to pull out their cameras.

20191029_092717

A Favorite Cottonwood

There are some trees, friends, that I stop by to visit to see how they are doing. This Cottonwood tree is one.

20191028_122116

In my records, this is Walk # 1351. Another good one.

 

Poison Ivy on Cottonwood: Taking A Good Look

In early to mid-October in Eliza Howell Park, before most other plants had reached their Fall color peak, Poison Ivy gets my attention. It adds color to the trunks of trees and the fruit attracts birds.

The vine climbs many of the Cottonwood trees inside the road loop, where it is easy to get a good look.

20191014_105627

Poison Ivy is a native species that usually gets talked about for only one reason: stem, leaves, and roots all contain urushiol, which causes a rash reaction in most people who come into contact with it. So the message is to avoid it. But it is safe to look and I have enjoyed getting to know some of its characteristics. I have recently been observing how it grows on Cottonwood trees and each picture here is of Poison ivy on a Cottonwood.

Poison Ivy often grows 20 feet or more up the trunk of a large tree.

20191014_190901

20191014_112425

The leaves in fall are red or yellow or orange.

20191014_112903

The fruit is abundant this year. Humans (and other primates, I think) are the only animals that have the rash reaction to the urushiol in Poison Ivy. Birds eat the fruit and deer and insects eat the leaves.

20191014_112412

The craggy bark of Cottonwood trees provides a good surface for the Poison Ivy vines to climb. The vines tend to be hairy, a fact that helps to identify the species during the months of the year when there are no leaves.

20191014_190739

Poison Ivy is not the only colorful vine that climbs trees (the leaves of Virginia Creeper, for example, also turn reddish), but most of the red vines on large trees that a visitor is likely to see within the road loop in the park at this time of the year are Poison Ivy.

This is an ideal time to take a good look and to get a better understanding of its role among the flora and fauna of North America.

20191014_113139

The classic advice of “Look, but Don’t Touch” applies here. Maybe take several good looks.

 

Gray Catbird: Predictable Departure Time

My October bird watching in Eliza Howell Park in Detroit is largely focused on birds Coming, birds Going, and birds Passing Through. “Coming” are those species that breed in the far North and spend their winters here; “Going” birds breed here and head south for the winter; “Passing Through” birds breed north of southern Michigan and winter to the south of us.

Very early October is the time to expect my last sighting of the year of one of my favorite park summer residents: the Gray Catbird.

catbird rufus showing

Photo by Margaret Weber

According to my records, the Catbird is typically here at the end of September but gone by the end of the first week of October. At this time of the year, I often walk through the wildflower field along the edge of the woods checking to see what birds have shown up overnight. The view is slowly transitioning to a Fall look.

20190925_080635

Birds like this area because it is a good place to forage for food, whether that food be insects or seeds (most of the wild flowers are now in seed) or berries from the many vines and shrubs at the edge. For most of the summer Catbirds eat insects, but when fruit is available as it is now, they eat a variety of berries.

catbird wt berry

Photo by Margaret Weber

They are called “catbirds” because their wailing reminds people of a cat meowing. They are mimics, however, and especially when singing earlier in the season, can produce a great variety of sounds.

They spend the winter near the cost in the southeast U.S. or Mexico or in the Caribbean or Central America. (The Range Map is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.)

20190930_200719

Their spring arrival date is also predictable. I usually first spot one in the park between April 30 and May 4. Shortly thereafter they begin to seek out a nesting location; they place their nests in thickets, several feet off the ground. It often takes careful thicket searching, but I have had some success in finding their nests. Their eggs are a striking color (turquoise green?).

20190601_115347

Several pairs spend the summer in Eliza Howell Park. At least one Catbird was still present yesterday, October 1. It might have been the last day I see one in 2019, 5 full months after the first appearance in the spring.

Thank you for spending the time with us.

20191001_131426

Photo by Margaret Weber

One of the joys of nature watching for me is the predictability of the annual sequence of events. And very few events are more predicable than the time of  the annual departure from Eliza Howell of the Gray Catbird.

A Tiny Patch of Cattails: Over the Seasons

About a year ago, I commented on the way the seed clusters of Staghorn Sumac persist into and through the winter (December 14, 2017). Another perennial plant in Eliza Howell Park that holds its seeds well into the winter is Cattail.

Now, in mid-December, most Cattail seed clusters look like this.

20181218_093814

It is likely that many visitors to Eliza Howell Park never see cattails. There is only one small patch that I am aware of, at the edge of a wooded area, with only about 10 – 12 seed stalks a year.

20181212_110326

Cattails thrive in wet soil and are usually found in or by wetlands. The Eliza Howell patch is in area that I would not call a marsh or wetland (or even a vernal pool), but does tend to be a wet spot in the spring.

Cattails spread by rhizomes (creeping roots) and by seeds. Since this patch is isolated, it probably started from seeds.

Last February, most of the seed clusters were still tightly closed, not yet dispersing seed.

20180207_124248

In late winter, shortly before it is warm enough for the seeds to sprout, they finally open and the seeds are released, relying mostly on the wind for dispersal. The next picture is from March 22, 2018.

20180322_151231

It would be interesting to know the source of the seeds that started the Eliza Howell patch.

The new growth on the established plants appears in April, and a couple months later seed stalks are evident. In July, they look like this.

20180715_095738

By mid-August, the seed clusters look quite mature.

20180812_103639

There are a number of plant species in the park that I check on regularly around the calendar year. Cattails are one, in part because of the manner and annual timing of seed dispersal. And they are a species that has observable change in winter.