Posts Tagged Callicarpa americana

Autumnal Observations

Autumn color of Katsura Tree.

Autumn is making itself undeniably known in my part of central North Carolina. Every day, I see more leaf color along with more discarded leaves on the ground, scattered among acorns, walnuts, and many other fruits. Humidity has dropped (barring occasional tropical storm remnants), skies are deep blue, and in my yard, the air is perfumed by the unmistakeable fragrance of golden leaves of a non-native tree I planted 25 years ago. The Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) became a must-have for me when I saw it in the display garden of a local plantsman. He waxed rhapsodically over the autumn leaf scent, comparing it to ripe strawberries in sunlight and cotton candy. He was not exaggerating. Wonder Spouse thinks the fragrance that wafts from the autumn leaves of this tree on north breezes resembles cotton candy. My nose finds the scent to be more fruity — a cross between strawberries and ripe apricots, perhaps with a hint of sweet apple. The golden orange leaves and their distinctive perfume have become our signal that autumn has arrived. But it is most certainly not the only sign.

Cornus kousa on the left and Cornus florida on the right, both heavy with autumn fruits.

Bird activity has picked up again. They were always around, of course, but now they are making more noise again. Red-bellied woodpeckers and blue jays make a constant ruckus as they gather characteristically small acorns of the massive southern red oak (Quercus falcata) that dominates the top of our hill. It appears to be a big year for acorn production; dropped acorns cover the ground beneath this giant.

Bright fruits of American beautyberry adorn its branches.

Fruit eaters from squirrels to Eastern bluebirds, mockingbirds, catbirds, and many other species are chowing down on dogwood and American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) fruits. Our non-native Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) produced so much fruit this year that branches touched the ground until the fruits fell or were devoured.

Flocks of migrating robins clean off whole trees and bushes in a day or two. Migrating warblers are still passing through on their way to their winter hangouts, and finally this week, we’ve begun spotting rose-breasted grosbeaks at the feeders, refueling for their southward journeys.

The photo is blurry, but trust me, that’s a river otter peeking at me.

The plaintive calls of green-winged teals once again echo across the floodplain from the beaver-built pond where they spend their winters. Great blue herons are more visible as they stalk creek waters among browning vegetation. Besides the grosbeaks, the highlight of this week occurred this past Tuesday morning, when my garden helper, Beth, spotted two, perhaps three, river otters frolicking in the deeper part of the creek. She hollered for me to get my camera, but I only managed one blurry shot of one peeking at us from behind the safety of an ironwood (Carpinus caroliniana). Wonder Spouse has now aimed one of our wildlife cameras on that part of the creek in the hopes that it will photograph them more effectively than I could.

The green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) forest that dominates our floodplain and which has become infested with deadly invasive non-native Emerald Ash Borers glows in the dim light of dawn and dusk as leaves turn a soft yellow before falling. Ash fruits still dangle in large clusters on the branches of female trees. Knock-on-wood — evidence of the imminent demise of these  ashes is not yet apparent. I am praying that the one experimental release of predatory wasps by experts from my state was successful beyond our wildest expectations.

With the departure of summer’s heat and humidity, I find myself tackling the infinite garden chore list as often as my joints permit. I’m collecting some of the abundant seed produced by native plants growing on our five acres so that I can share it with a friend who is attempting to re-establish native plants on a public greenway beside a local creek. The fall vegetable garden needs regular tending. I am happy to report that the broccoli crop is coming along nicely, along with myriad greens we will enjoy in winter salads. With Wonder Spouse’s help, the front water feature is drained, and plants in pots that live there all growing season have been cleaned up and relocated to their winter quarters inside the greenhouse.

Much remains to be done; the cooler air that continues to be delivered by frequent cold fronts reminds me constantly that many of the tasks remaining are time-sensitive. Fortunately for me, cooler air and the perfume from the Katsura tree’s leaves invigorate me body and soul as I race to complete as many tasks as possible before winter grips the landscape.

Follow me on iNaturalist

After being recently exiled from Facebook for the sin of using Piedmont Gardener as my name there (for many years), I have turned to an application I’ve been meaning to get to for some time — iNaturalist. If you aren’t using it and you love the natural world as I do, please check out this free application. You’ll find me there as piedmontgardener.

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Beauteous Beautyberry

Stunning fruit clusters of native American Beautyberry

Over the last twenty-plus years, I’ve been adding small trees and shrubs to my landscape with two main goals: increased beauty and improved wildlife habitat. Every plant I’ve added meets one or both of these objectives, including this native shrub —  American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana).

This shrub, native to moist woodland edges and pine woods throughout the southeast, will usually grow 3-5 feet tall, but it’s been known to get as tall as 9 feet. I’d guess that mine is about six feet tall. Its habit is loose and open, and the leaves are rather large, arranged oppositely each other in pairs on the stems. It does well at the back of a border or mixed in with other understory plants in naturalized areas, where it goes unnoticed until this time of year, when the fruits light up my woodland.

On my plant, neon-magenta fruits (technically, drupes) as shiny as Mardi Gras beads grow in big clusters around the branch stems at the leaf axils. I’ve read that fruit color in the species varies from more violet and pink shades to the electrifying magenta of my plant, and you can also find white-fruited forms. I like the way the fruit clusters on my specimen light up the forest edge, where it thrives at the bottom of a hill.

You’ll often see recommendations to cut this shrub back to no more than a foot tall in late winter to help you maintain a moderate-sized shrub. This works, but my recommendation is to site plants with their mature size in mind, allowing them to grow into their designated space without exceeding it.

Birds are supposed to like the fruits. My references say they are favored by Northern Bobwhites, American Robins, Cardinals, Catbirds, Mockingbirds, and Brown Thrashers, among others. However, in my yard, they are a food of last resort, usually shriveling into raisin-like clusters by late winter before they are finally consumed.

White-tailed Deer are supposed to eat the leaves of this shrub with moderate enthusiasm, but I’ve never noticed any signs of deer browsing on my specimen. They’re also supposed to favor the fruit clusters after leaf fall, but again, I’ve seen no evidence of that in my yard. Raccoon and Opossums are also supposed to like the fruits. Maybe my shrub has particularly bad-tasting fruits, because I’ve seen no signs of their nibbling either.

My many-branched shrub produces excellent fruit crops in all but the most severe drought years. Here’s a shot that gives you a better idea of fruit spacing along the branches:

Plenty of fruit for everyone

The apparent unpopularity of the fruits with the wildlife in my yard frees me of any guilt when I cut a few branches to display in the house. Paired with short evergreen magnolia branches and a few late flowers, the berried branches add pizzazz to indoor autumn arrangements.

In my opinion, this easy-going native shrub should adorn more Piedmont yards. Its low-maintenance requirements, tolerance of many soils and levels of shade, and its electrifying autumn fruits will brighten any landscape.


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