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.

Chestnuts and Chestnut Trees

Even though I am a septuagenarian, I am too young to remember the days when American Chestnut trees were a very common hardwood tree in the forests of the eastern United States. The “chestnut blight,” a fungus-infestation, wiped out nearly every one of the estimated 4 billion (billion!) chestnut trees in the first 4 decades of the 20th century.

Most of us are somewhat familiar with Horse Chestnut (Buckeye) trees, but they are quite different. The nut of Horse Chestnuts is not edible, while chestnuts are known for “roasting over an open fire.” I don’t think I ever saw chestnuts growing on a tree until I came to know them in Eliza Howell Park.

This is what the developing nuts look like at the end of July.

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The nuts are developing now. Most are ripe and fall to the ground in September. The outside shell, often called a burr, has many very sharp spines (not to be grabbed with the bare hand), though the spines are still soft in July. When they fall to the ground, the burrs usually open on their own, revealing the brown hulls of the nuts inside. In the Eliza Howell trees, each bur normally has three nuts.

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These are true chestnuts, but I do not want to mislead. They are not surviving native American Chestnuts. The two clumps of chestnut trees found inside the road loop were probably planted here some 30 or more years ago, I am guessing. This picture shows two (in a clump of three) close to the walking path.

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The fact that these trees have several trunks, not just a single one, suggests that they are an oriental chestnut species, originally from either Japan or China.

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The season is relatively short. Blossoms appear in June, with separate male and female flowers, both of which can be seen in the picture.

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In October, the fruiting season is over, with the last nuts falling as the leaves begin to turn.

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There are on-going efforts to develop American Chestnuts that are resistant to the blight. These efforts may make it possible for us to see American Chestnuts in parks and forests in the future. Meanwhile, these imported chestnuts provide the opportunity to get to know something about what chestnuts are and how they fruit.

Visitors to Eliza Howell Park can find them right along the walking path within the road loop.

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VIEW FROM THE FOOTBRIDGE: October – December, 2017

The footbridge over the Rouge River (Main branch) is part of my regular walk in the park. During 2017, I got into the habit of taking a quick picture each time of the view from the footbridge, facing upriver. The pictures, in addition to being enjoyable views, help to refresh my memory on the timing of the seasonal changes in the park.

As a result of the cold spell in late December 2017, the river surface was frozen and snow covered by the end of the year.

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December 30, 2017

The following pictures cover the last three months of the calendar year, in roughly 2-week intervals.

In Eliza Howell, most of the trees remain green in early October and slowly begin to change during the month.

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October 1, 2017

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October 16, 2017

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October 31, 2017

The autumn look fully arrives in November, the month of the big leaf drop.  

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November 14, 2017

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November 30, 2017

The first snows usually come in December, as they did in 2017.

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December 12, 2017

The freezing over of the running water in December, as happened this year, is quite unusual.

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December 28, 2017

I started taking frequent pictures from this viewpoint only in the middle of 2017. My hope is to document all 12 months this way in 2018.