Sunday, November 30, 2008

Going to Seed- pea family pods, and lots of berries

Humans eat lots of Legumes which are members of the pea family. We eat green beans, green peas, lentils, black beans, red beans, black-eyed peas and pinto beans, to name a few. We love them in our gardens, in our food, and wildlife find legumes in nature and enjoy them as a good source of protein. Mesquites provides an important source of food in the southwestern United States. Gamebirds, such as quail rely on them. Fur and game mammals find them a reliable source of food - antelope jack-rabbits, cottontail rabbits, and skunks to name a few. Small mammals such as chipmunk, ground squirrel, mice, rats, eat the pods, and deer eat the foliage and twigs.

Below are some of the members of the Pea Family (sometimes referred to as Legumes, or members of "Pea" or Fabaceae Family). The ones below are plants that are native to the ranch that I saw that happened to have pods when I was out taking pictures in late October and early November.

Members of the Pea Family have pea pods to hold their seeds. The flat pods of the Texas Redbud (Cercis canadensis var. texensis) seen here are around 3 or 4 inches long. In the late spring their pods are red and turn brown in the fall.

These pods on the Kidneywood plant (Eysenhardtia texana), are very small, less than 1/2 inch long. I don't imagine that such small pods offer much for wildlife food, but the blossoms provide excellent bee forage, and the leaves are good deer browse. It is also the host plant to the southern dogface butterfly caterpillar.

Golden-Ball Lead Tree (Leucana retusa) has bright yellow, globe-like flower clusters around an inch in diameter during April and May. Their pods are thin papery narrow brown pods 4 to 10 inches long. Leaves are bipinnately compound which gives them a lacey appearance. Deer and livestock brouse this plant heavily. Butterflies and bees love their nectar. (A picture of the flowers is below).

Flowers of the Golden-Ball Lead Tree certainly fit the name of the plant and seen to explode in the spring when they bloom. I love this plant and look forward to seeing its golden-balls against the spring green of it foliage.

The common understanding of the word "Berry" is a simple one, a small roundish juicy or fleshy fruit with a seed or seeds inside, and I think of Possumhaw, Rusty Blackhaw, Snailseed, Greenbriar, Carolina Buckthorn, and Madrone trees as having berries. However, if you look up specific terminology of say "fruits", in Plant Identification Terminology, an Illustrated Glossary, by James G. Harris and Melinda W. Harris, you find that there are multiple terms to describe fruits: take for example, a "Hip is a berrylike stucture composed of an enlarged hypanthium surrounding numerous achenes". If you're a botanical taxonomist this may make good sense to you, but I would have to look up at least 2 more words, and maybe more before I would even start to understand. The following examples are fruits that I consider berries.

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), has multiple clusters of magenta or purple berries against its light green stems and leaves in the fall, and in my opinion certainly deserves its name "Beautyberry". It grows in shady spots in moist soils, and we have them at Selah along the Nature Trail above Madrone Lake. Its flowers which appear in late spring or early summer are not showy, but are pretty, being small and white or a delicate pink.

Carolina Buckthorn (Rhamnus caroliniana) is a handsome small tree, which lives comfortably in sun or shade. One of the native plants here, it is found in many places. It blooms in late spring, and I would probably miss the small blooms if they were not so popular with honey bees which are sometimes so thick that the whole bush buzzes. Its fruit which is round, is at first greenish yellow, turns red and finally black when mature. You often see all the colors at once which adds to its beauty. The berries provide food for birds. Deer like to browse the plant, and it is often seen growing in a thicket where it is protected from browsers by neighboring spiny plants.

Texas Madrone (Arbutus xalapensis) seeds are Christmas red, have a granular surface and ripen in November. I have eaten them and they taste sweet. Apparently they are enjoyed by a number of bird species. This is one of my favorite trees on the ranch. (I will devote a whole post to it soon.)

Rusty Blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum) is a small tree that I associate with moist soils along creeks. The leaves are shiny green, simple and opposite. In the fall they turn a rust red, and are striking. Their fruit is pinkish (they have a dusty white surface, or bloom) then red, and black when ripe. They are listed as edible by Delena Tull in her book, "A Practical guide to Edible and Useful Plants". She indicates they "can be used in jellies or meat sauces, but they are best eaten raw." You have to be watching for them because birds like them so much that they may be gone before you get them.

Let me know if you find this kind of post with pictures interesting. I enjoy doing them and hope that they are informative and increase your curiousity about the world around us, both plants and animals.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I find this very informative. My husband and I hike a lot in the Fall and this will help us identify the bushes/berries we have seen.