Thursday, November 08, 2007

Seeds and Pods - Part One

One of my favorite parts of this time of year is seeing all of the different forms nature creates to disperse seeds. As the weather chills, nuts, seeds, berries, and pods show themselves and split open to display some breathtakingly beautiful stuff.
For the next few posts (barring some unforeseen wonderfulness that will need discussion), I'll be out there snapping pictures of some of them in my area, and sharing them here.
Yesterday on my way to town, I rounded a bend and came upon a large amount of Bittersweet. I suspect this to be the more invasive Chinese variety, Celastrus orbiculatus, based on the profusion of berries all along the branches, rather than the native Celastrus scandens that is being rapidly replaced.
Still, it is stunning. I swerved the car off the road and jumped out to take a few pictures.
Bittersweet and I go way back. I'm not aware of any medicinal properties but as an Autumn wreath or swag material, it is a great addition. The first time I saw it, someone brought it to the shop in bunches for us to sell. She spoke of knowing "certain places" where it grew, as if it were a well-kept family secret. It became a sort of obsession at that point.
I searched through field guides and read about the growth habits. At that time, we lived on a different wooded acreage, and one day I just decided that it HAD to be down in the woods. It was cold, and I bundled up in search of the bright berried plant. Through the briars and bramble I went, climbing over fallen branches and pulling clingy wind rose thorns from my clothing.
At some point, almost ready to give up, I tumbled down the bank into the shallow stream. Disgusted with myself, I started climbing the bank. As I reached for a protruding root to use for leverage, I looked at the ground beside my hand. There were some fallen berries. Poised precariously on the bank, I craned my neck back and looked up the tree whose roots I was clinging to, only to see the bittersweet high (very) among the uppermost branches.
In the next couple of years, the obsession grew. I learned that bittersweet leaves have a uniquely clear yellow color in the fall. On car trips (as a passenger), I can find it almost any day, no matter where we are going.
If you know me, you know that there are always a couple of plants that are on my "sighting list" in any given year. For a while it was elderberry, then boneset, and St. John's wort. Black cohosh and jewelweed are in there, along with many others. They all have had me scanning the woodlands, learning to recognize them from a distance, getting to know them by their look, the way you can tell an old friend from a distance by the way they walk, their posture, the way they carry themselves.

Another seed pod that really caught my eye recently is the thornapple from the Moonflower. I wrote about the flowers earlier when they bloomed.
At the top right of the picture, in the corner of the basket you can make out some of the tan seeds that have spilled from one of the split pods.
The thornapples are indeed covered with spines. They are not soft thorns. They are stiff. So it strikes me as such a contrast with the satin-y ruffles that skirt the stem.
I cut almost all of them from the plant, leaving only one or two for next year. This plant is a strong one, and it is close to the foundation of the house. Some of the seeds will be shared. Part of it too, is curiousity. I want to see how they dry, what they'll look like when they're done. The outsides almost remind me of chestnuts - the way they feel to touch. Clipping them and catching them in the basket, I noticed that they smell a bit like peanut butter. As Molly walked by, I held them up and asked her to sniff. She thinks they smell bitter. Hmmm.... Interesting.


Ginger's Garden said...

What great pics!

Irena aka soapbuddy

Laura said...

I love your stories! You ARE Adventure Woman!!! :) Who else would tumble down a path and end up finding the very berries you were seeking? ;) Brilliant! Please keep the stories coming! I'm sensing a compilation... ;)