12 November, 2010

In which I answer Googled questions.

Some explicit, some implicit.

To the mysterious person who got here googling “small ww2 fighter aircraft” in quotes just like that, I am so sorry. You were probably not looking for the story of my epic battle with a horsefly but there you go. There are much worse things you could have ended up reading!

To the person who was looking for “what is the best time of year to return a pet box turtle to the wild” the answer is “There probably is not one, but if there is, this is definitely not it.” If you have a pet box turtle, please don’t just turn the little goober loose. They are highly dependent on living in a familiar area to find food, water, and the good hiding spots. Furthermore, if you release a box turtle into the wild, you may be releasing disease and/or parasites into the local wild population that did not exist before. I have assumed throughout that we’re talking about a box turtle that is native to the area in the first place, if it isn’t then NEVER EVER EVER let it loose. Ever. In a million billion years. At any rate, if you cannot keep your pet box turtle, the best thing to do is to find a turtle rescue who can either take the turtle in or help you place the small scaley stalker in an appropriate home. Once you’ve snagged that turtle out of the wild, it is your responsibility. Be kind and do the right thing.

To the person looking for “asimina triloba stink”: my pawpaws are too small to flower, but I am assured that their blossoms smell like rotting meat in order to attract carrion flies, which they depend on for pollination. Supposedly the smell is not terribly strong, which means that pawpaws often have a low fruit yield due to poor pollination. You can improve your fruit yield by hand-pollinating your tree, or by hanging meat in its branches to rot and attract flies. Or, y’know, you could take your chances. Your call. Either way, I wouldn’t plant pawpaws too close to the house, just in case.

To the person Googling “sable Doberman”: there aren’t any. Dobermans come in four colors: black, red, blue, and fawn. The fawn ones are prettier. Don’t tell Beowulf I said that.

To the person who looked for “will a turtle die if left on its back”: yes, yes it will. If it cannot turn itself over (and usually they can’t, although they will try), then the turtle will die an excruciatingly slow death from dehydration, starvation, and inability to regulate its temperature by walking to a better spot. Do not leave turtles on their backs.

To the person who wondered “is asimina triloba invasive?”: Only if you live outside its native range. In most of the United States and even into southern Canada, it is a lovely native species that will provide you with snacks in the form of pawpaw fruits.

14 April, 2010

Come squee with me, baby trees edition

The weather has been pretty good for baby trees lately. While I’m worried about the persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) that I planted, and the red mulberry (Morus rubra) that I planted last year is almost certainly dead, the baby pawpaws? They are growing like gangbusters. Also thriving are the trash pines (I really need to thin them) and the sassafras is doing spectactularly this year, for reals.

The main reason I have pawpaws is, let’s face it, the fact that when I was a wee girlchild my grandmother used to sing me a song:
Where oh where oh where is Andrea?
Where oh where oh where is Andrea?
Where oh where oh where is Andrea?
Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch!

Come on, girls, let’s go find her
Come on, girls, let’s go find her
Come on, girls, let’s go find her
Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch!

It’s got the same tune as “Ten Little Indians” and it’s the sort of repetitive song that little kids like to sing endlessly to drive their parents nuts but for me it is warm fuzzy memories of getting to spend the night with my grandmother.

And now, I have a pawpaw patch:
A shot of a clear space, with some tall oak trees in the near background.  There may, if you squint just right, be some saplings in there that are pawpaws.

All right, fine, they’re not huge yet, so here are some individual pictures. Please keep in mind that healthy leaves on a pawpaw look all floppy and wilted.
One:
A baby pawpaw tree, slightly out of focus and maybe 18 inches tall, but even with the poor photography you can see it is bravely putting out leaves and growing its little heart out.

Two:
This baby pawpaw tree, about a foot tall, is a straight stick crowned with a little clump of longish, floppy green leaves.  It looks like the tree equivalent of a muppet.

Three:
This baby pawpaw tree is shot from above and arches up toward the camera.  It is pretending to be a dead stick, but if you look down near the ground you can see it has put out two branches with brave little leaves on them.
That’s the one I planted last year, and it looks as if it’s opting for the “shrub” version of pawpaw growth patterns. I’m OK with that, just as long as it doesn’t die.

Then there’s the baby sassafras trees, which I deeply adore as their little leaf clusters look like green rose buds. Also you never know what kind of leaves you’re going to get from a sassafras tree, they come in solid, “mitten”, and trefoil shapes, often in the same leaf cluster. If you happen to bruise their leaves (which I try not to do on the babies) then the sweet smell of root beer wafts into the air. Before the link between safrole (the aromatic oil the tree produces) and liver cancer was discovered (although it is disputed by some), the roots of the sassafras tree where what gave Root Beer its name.

Here’s leaf clusters that haven’t opened yet, plus flowers, on an adult sassafras tree (only adult trees think about grown-up tree things like flowers):
A collection of branches against the sky.  The branches are studded with what look like green rosebuds, about 2 inches high and tightly furled.  At the base of these clusters are rings of little non-descript flowers.

Here’s a baby with just a single leaf cluster that’s just starting to open:
A leaf cluster, shot from above.  The center is still tightly furled into the faux-rosebud, but four leaves have opened enough to see that they're all the solid kind, shaped like an almond, sort of.

Here’s a slightly older baby sassafras, unfurling its leaves. You can see all three types of leaf in this particular cluster:
A cluster of six sassafras leaves.  The three outermost are all solid.  Two of the innermost are trefoil, with a largeish central point and two smaller points, one on each side.  The other inner leaf is a mitten shape, but you can't really tell because the photographer got a crappy angle.

Oh there we go, the photographer got her act together.  This is the same cluster of leaves, this time shot from above so you can see the mitten-shaped leaf more clearly.

Finally, I could not resist this gang of juvenile sassafras trees, all hanging out together. They’re probably skipping school or something:
Four adolescent sassafras trees hang out together.  They look, if it is possible for trees to have an expression, as if they are up to something shifty.

There’s a saying in the south, used to refer to land exhausted by farming or other maltreatment: too poor to grow sassafras. Sassafras grows anywhere, and is often the first tree to move in when land is clear-cut. If your land is too poor to grow sassafras, you are in deep trouble. So it gives me a little thrill to see that the back acre, though damaged and blighted, is at least not too poor to grow sassafras. Get on with your bad selves, little trees.

Oh and because a) I can’t possibly walk around my massive 2.5 acre property without a bodyguard and b) she needs the practice standing still while I take pictures, Zille came along. I think she had fun.
Zille, a sable German Shedder, smiles into the camera with bright eyes, ears up, and lolling tongue.

9 April, 2010

Someday I will breathe through my nose again.

It is definitely spring in Virginia. You can tell because everything that has been outside for more than two minutes has turned yellow under a thick coating of pollen. There’s flowers all over the place but mostly it’s the trees doing it. I have been living on Zyrtec for a month now, y’all, and am anxiously awaiting actual summer when the trees will stop with their airborne romance.

Speaking of trees, I have planted three more here at the Manor: two pawpaws (Asimina triloba) and one American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). One of the best places I have found for baby trees is Edible Landscaping. I’ve bought several from them, including two pawpaws that were casualties of a buck whitetail that lives or lived in the area, and they’ve all arrived in great condition and established themselves with a minimum of tending from me, which is exactly what I want in a tree. This is also, not so coincidentally, why I strongly believe in planting native species of tree, and did the research to find out what snack-producing varieties are native to my particular neck of the woods. Many of these native trees are also having a hard time, because their fruits are not commercially popular, or invasive imports are taking over their habitat, or in the case of the red mulberry (Morus rubra) the invasive white mulberry (Morus alba, from Asia) is taking over its very genome, since they can hybridize.

So here I am on the Manor, doing my part to save obscure native trees like the pawpaw. Odds are you have never heard of a pawpaw, unless a) you live overseas where the word pawpaw refers to another fruit entirely or b) your grandmother used to sing the pawpaw song to you like mine did. However, it is a nifty little tree that lives in the understory of the forest. It’s endangered in New Jersey, threatened in New York, and “vulnerable” in Ontario, Canada. The leaves contain a natural pesticide that keep bugs off them with the notable exception of the zebra swallowtail butterfly and the pawpaw sphinx moth, for which it is the larval host. The fruit feeds birds and small mammals. Weirdly, it is pollinated by blow flies, which normally feed on carrion, which means its flowers smell like dead rotting things, and if you want to improve your fruit yield you can hang chicken necks from the branches of the trees to rot. Yum. Wildflower.org has great information on the pawpaw and lists it as a PlantWise native alternative to Russian olive. Compounds in the seeds of pawpaws show promise for chemotherapy against prostate and colon cancers. How much more useful and cool do you need a tree to be, seriously? The problem, of course, is that the fruit does not ship well, and therefore it doesn’t have much commercial potential. As an understory tree, it’s also losing habitat as Americans cut down forests and put in housing developments.

You may have seen fruits of the Asian persimmon varieties in grocery stores. American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) produce much smaller fruits that are horribly bitter and sour until after the first frost hits them. It is a hardy little bugger of a tree, able to handle high sun and low water conditions. Abraham Lincoln had one at his home in Illinois, even! Like the pawpaw, it’s a hardy native tree whose fruits just happen to be not as commercially viable as the agricultural conglomerates would like, so it’s listed as “special concern” in Connecticut and “threatened” in New York. Confidential to New York State: WTF are you guys doing to your native trees, yo?

Still in the plans for this year are a couple red mulberries (Morus rubra) as I think the one I planted last year did not survive the apocalyptic winter, and some hazelnut bushes. I also need to replace my butternut sapling that got mowed down by the neighbor I pay to do my lawn last fall. Meanwhile, I also need to go savage some damn Paulownia that have sprung up on the back acre, thin out the pine saplings from around the sassafras seedlings to give them room, and otherwise continue the grand re-treeification project.

Also, confidential to the person who got here googling “how to sneak up on a spring peeper”: If you find out, let me know! But I am inclined to say that it is impossible, because the little buggers will always hear you coming and shut up. The only way I’ve found to get a good look at them is to be out driving in the rain in the spring and summer, in the dark just before dawn. You will often see them hopping across the road and if you’re very swift and conditions are safe you can stop the car, leap out, and intercept one before it disappears into the ditch on the side of the road. But please don’t take them from their natural habitat, frogs are having a hard enough time out there. If you’re in an area where there are Spring Peepers and you’d like to have some around, may I suggest constructing them a little pond to hang out at?