Five Climbing Vines: Watching the Fruit Develop

In late August and the first part of September, I often find myself visiting five different large perennial climbing vines that are found in Eliza Howell. I am watching the fruit develop and ripen.

1.Virginia Creeper

Virginia Creeper berries have just recently completed the transition from green to blue.

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These berries are eaten by many birds and some mammals, but humans are warned against eating them because of their toxicity.

Virginia Creeper is a woody vine, native to North America, and is found in forests and on the borders of clearings. The next picture is of a vine growing on a dead tree by the river.

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2. Porcelain-berry

Many people are surprised when they first see the fruit of Porcelain-berry; we do not expect fruit to be multicolored.

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These berries are reported to be safe to eat, but not very palatable. I have not yet done my own taste test.

Porcelain-berry was first imported from East Asia as an ornamental about 1870. The vines grow vigorously (apparently spread by birds dropping seeds) and can choke out other plants, including trees. It is becoming widespread in Eliza Howell, blanketing sections along open areas.

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3.Oriental Bittersweet

The fruit of this vine ripens later in the year than that of the others here. Currently, it looks like this.

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Also brought to the U. S. in the 1800s, Oriental Bittersweet also has the capacity to spread rapidly and to smother other species. It is not as widespread in the park as Porcelain-berry, but it is common.

Later in the Fall, the yellowish outer skin of the fruit opens to reveal the red seeds. They often hang on the vines well into the winter, when they can be an attractive addition to an after-the-snowfall scene. This picture is from early last November, not too long after they began to open.

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4.Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy is, of course, best known for causing a painful itchy rash for most people who touch the plant. Since getting close to the plant is usually avoided, many do not know what the fruit looks like. I have been (carefully) observing how it progresses and this is what it looks like now.

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Poison Ivy vines grow high on a number of large trees in the park, with the foliage turning red in the Fall, often while the leaves of the host tree are still green. Some red is already starting to appear.

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5.Wild Grape

I earlier did a post on the grapes of Eliza Howell (“Vinland,” August 9, 2018), so will not repeat that information now, but simply point out that this is what the grapes look like now.

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Three of these large woody vines are native to North America; two were imported for gardens and “escaped” to the wild. Together, these five cover significant sections of the edges of wooded areas and climb many trees in the park. I find that this is a good time of the year to get to know them better, when their fruit clearly identifies them.

An August Walk: Phenological Observations

As I wander the park these August days, much of my attention is focused on the beginning of fall bird migration and on the continued blooming of insect-attracting flowers. There is so much more to observe, however, and recently I noted a variety of other seasonal phenomena.

I saw all of the following on one recent morning walk.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Nest

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I came across this tiny nest that had fallen under the wild black cherry tree where I watched a pair of gnatcatchers as they constructed this twenty-foot high nest in late May. And I watched them, as well, as they fed the young in the nest in June. The fallen nest provides a good opportunity to note the construction, including the bits of lichen on the outside which helped to camouflage it on the tree limb.

Orbweaver and Web

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This is a great time of the year to find spider webs, often made more visible by dew drops or raindrops. This orbweaver (Marbled Orbweaver, I think), is hanging out upside down under the web as it waits for prey.

Virginia Creeper Berries

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One of the native vines that grow in the park is Virginian Creeper. It always catches my attention when the berries change from green to blue on red stems. Virginia Creeper is sometimes confused with Poison Ivy, but there are several differentiating characteristics. One is that creeper berries are blue when ripe while ivy berries, when ripe, are whitish.

Bald-faced Hornet Nest

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Every year I find a number of Bald-faced Hornet nests in the park, most them quite high in trees. This is the first one I found this year and it is quite low. These hornets, really a type of wasp, defend their nests vigorously if one gets really close, but I have found that a few feet away is safe. (For more, see my post on December 19, 2017: “Bald-faced Hornet Nests.”)

Variety of Mushrooms

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After rain in late summer, mushrooms pop up — in various locations and in various shapes and sizes. These are some that I saw on the walk. Maybe next year I will try to identity them, at least the most common ones. For now, I am just appreciating the variety.

Developing Acorns

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There are many different types of oak trees in Eliza Howell; this one is a type of white oak. The acorns are not yet fully grown in most species and it is fascinating to watch how they mature. In some cases, the nut has to grow out of the cap that originally covers it almost completely.

Snail Climbing Plant

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These land snails (Brown Lipped Snails) are common in the unmowed sections of the park on the south side between the road loop and the woodland bordering the river. In late summer, they often climb stems as they eat decaying plants and grasses. I almost always find them on my walks among the wildflowers.

Phenology is the study of the annual life cycle events of plants and animals. When I use expressions like “at this time of year” and “seasonal,” I am very conscious of how much awareness of the annual cycle is at the heart of nature observation and study.