Larry Weber: A bountiful harvest for people and critters
With the earlier sunsets now, during this week the full moon will be very easy to see in the clear skies. We frequently refer to the full moon of September as the harvest moon. And even though many of us now live separated from the agrarian life ...
With the earlier sunsets now, during this week the full moon will be very easy to see in the clear skies. We frequently refer to the full moon of September as the harvest moon. And even though many of us now live separated from the agrarian life of our ancestors, we still can see the harvest at this time.
Tomatoes, beans, peas and squash get our attention from the gardens. Apple trees are laden with their delicious fruits. And sweet corn becomes a part of our diet. But the harvest and ripening fruits and berries go far beyond these additions to our lives. We also see and gather many of the wild ones.
Late summer this year has been a great time to note these seasonal happenings. Our oaks hold and then drop the new crop of acorns in the woods. Along the forest margin, there's plenty more to see. Hazels are loaded with their own nut crop. The husks are now getting brown, telling us of the ripe nut (similar to the well-known filbert) within. Also at these edge sites are other plants with ripe fruits.
Raspberries and blackberries have had a bountiful season this year. I spent many enjoyable hours during late summer days picking both the red raspberries and the dark blackberries. Though the former is very common throughout the Northland, the latter is not -- found mostly in the southern part of the region. Each is eaten right off the stem.
A small tree nearby, also at capacity this year, has berries that we usually do not eat raw: choke cherries.
Choke cherries (sometimes written as one word) are small trees, usually less than 20 feet tall. Unable to compete with the taller trees, choke cherries grow along the edge. Berries are borne in grape-like clusters hanging from most of the stems. Individually, these little berries are about pea size and ripen to a dark color after being red earlier.
Choke cherries are one of three wild cherries growing here. Pin cherries are about the same size, both as a tree and berries, but the fruits are bright red. They ripen earlier in summer. Scattered in the southern parts of the region a few tall wild black cherries grow. Common in the south, this tree with berries similar to choke cherries is uncommon here.
Choke cherries, however, are common. Last May, they put on a dazzling display of white flowers along the roadsides. Teaming up with wild plum, juneberry, elderberry and pin cherry, small white-flowering trees showed us just how abundant they are.
Now the purple fruits are discovered and eaten by a host of wildlife. Squirrels and chipmunks find them, as do birds of several kinds, especially cedar waxwings. High-pitched voices from flocks of these birds can lead us to berry trees.
Humans find these fruits tart and bitter (explaining the name), so they are usually left alone by us, though ardent berry gathers will extract the juice to produce a fine jelly.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is author of several books that are available now: "Butterflies of the North Woods," "Spiders of the North Woods" and "Fascinating Fungi of the North Woods."