Our autumn weather continues to be wonderful overall, with no real frosts to speak of yet, and with the usual long angles of the sun to give us pastoral glows most evenings.
Fall colors are emerging on everything from poison ivy to white pines (inner needles yellowing and browning), with another two weeks or so to go for this show. Here are some of your plant lover questions and one or two I threw in for good measure.
Q: What plants with small, round red and orange fruits are blooming now?
A: Honeysuckles, mostly non-native invasives have such fruits, and viburnums such as Viburnum dilatatum have tiny, quite showy masses of fruits right now. Since the question was asked during a walk at Secrest Arboretum in Wooster, the answer du jour was — winterberry holly.
Ilex verticillata and its hybrids with other hollies are quite showy now, providing the first of its seasonal profiles, since the red and orange (from the ‘Winter Gold’ cultivar) berries are paired with still-green leaves. Soon the leaves will turn yellow giving a different look and come mid-November and into the first of the new year, winterberry holly fruits will stand showily alone on barren branches. All of these phases are attractive, and cut branches are outstanding holiday decorations.
Q: What does an ash leaf look like?
A: Ashes have compound leaves, meaning that they have a leaf made up of multiple leaflets adjacent on a twig to an auxiliary bud rather than single leaves matched with a bud in the axil between the leaf and twig.
In the fall, as foliage drops, for example along the boardwalk and forest floor at Johnson Woods Nature Preserve near Orrville, you usually see the single leaflets that have become disattached to the five leaflet compound leaf of white ash. Of course with the emerald ash borer, over time we shall see less and less of these leaves and leaflets as white ash, green ash, blue ash, black ash and pumpkin ash fade from prominence in our woodlands, landscapes and treescapes.
Which brings us to this lament of loss, an Ode to Ashes by Kathleen Smith from central Ohio:
On the hammock up I see
Gauzy batting on baby blue quilt stretched corner to corner.
Now the tapestry cover:
Brittle branches and papery leaves,
The last whisper of the dying tree.
Wedged and hewn, his brother fell early in the season.
The most majestic and prized, the other two stately brothers
hold on as long as empty trunks can carry lofty limbs.
They too will succumb to the green death as Ashes, ashes, they all fall down.
Q: What is going on with these beeches at Johnson Woods?
A: This question is often asked of me when I am walking in Johnson Woods these days, though if I ask it, people tend to sidle away, more or less politely.
It is quite a phantasmagoric sight. Beech blight aphids are these eerie snow-white masses of six-legged creatures covered in waxy strands that when approached launch into a boogie-woogie dance of agitation.
These insects are actually sucking sap from the beech tree. Once they sustain their own nourishment from the sap, they excrete what we politely call “honeydew,” a clear, sugary substance that falls to the forest floor below, the boardwalk below, and leaves of beeches and other plants below.
This honeydew then is colonized by what is termed a sooty mold fungus, Scolias spongiosa. This fungus is at first a tawny color and then becomes a sooty black color that persists into the winter and beyond, often in crusty masses where it is caught up in the angle of two branches or on a leaf.
Quite a scene, especially this time of year, when the liquid honeydew and the developing sooty mold fungus conspire with moisture from rain showers to create a bit of a skating rink on the boardwalk. Fortunately for the tree, beech blight aphid is not a significant problem to overall health.
Q: In the world of cuisine, to what do we owe members of the rose family, the Rosaceae?
A: All right, no-one asked me this, in fact I asked it at a recent Secrest Arboretum program.
A plant family is a group of related genera (the plural of genus), and plant genera in the rose family include Malus for apple, Pyrus for pear, Prunus for peaches and almonds and cherries, Rosa for roses, Fragaria for strawberries, Rubus for raspberries and Amelanchier for serviceberries.
So, among the many culinary delicacies we are blessed by for this family are apple pie and cider, peach melba with both peaches and raspberries, Chambord liquor from raspberries, rose hip jelly from rose hips (fruits) of the plant, strawberry shortcake and on and on and most tastily on.
Q: What are a few short tips for tree identification?
A: Here are just a few that we teach in our Ohio State University Extension Woodland Steward classes.
• Pines have needles in bundles of two, three and five. Spruces, firs, hemlocks, yews have single needles attached.
• Spruces have needles that are square or triangular in shape, while firs have flat two-sided needles.
• Sugar maples and black maples are considered by some to be different sub-species of the same species, and separate species by others. Both yield sugary sap great for maple syrup. Black maple leaves droop.
• Beeches have pointed, linear leaf buds.
• Species of oaks have distinctive clustered buds.
• Species of Prunus typically have leaves with glands near the petiole-leaf base connection.
• Seven-son flower Heptacodium miconoides flowers for months in late summer and fall, first with white petals, then with salmon-pink sepals.
Go forth to yards, to parks, to woodland trails and learn your trees. Those masses of salmon-colored sepals of seven-son flower are spectacular now, highlighted against an October sky at Secrest Arboretum. And it is a great time to identify leaves as they fall upon the boardwalk at Johnson Woods.
As Wordsworth says: It is the season of feeling. It is always the season of feeling.
Jim Chatfield is a horticultural educator with Ohio State University Extension. If you have questions about caring for your garden, write: Jim Chatfield, Plant Lovers’ Almanac, Ohio State University Extension, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691. Send email to email@example.com or call 330-466-0270. Please include your phone number if you write.