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?