A Harvest of Berries

In late November, most leaves have fallen to the ground, turned brown and tucked Earth’s northern regions in for the long winter.  But the bareness reveals new beauty in the form of a harvest of berries.  Many colorful berries decorate trees, shrubs and vines, both here in St. Paul and in the woods surrounding our cabin in east central Minnesota.  They also provide food for many birds and small mammals.  Here is a sample of this generous harvest:

Six species of dogwood are native to Minnesota.  Among the  most colorful are gray dogwood and swamp dogwood, also known as silky or blue dogwood.

gray dogwood

Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) leaves turn shades of maroon and purple. White berries or “drupes” grow on stalks that turn bright red in autumn.

Swamp or silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) berries ripen to dark blue. The shrubs form dense thickets that provide cover for snowshoe hare and other animals.

Swamp or silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) berries ripen to dark blue. The shrubs form dense thickets that provide cover for snowshoe hare and other animals.

Native hawthorns (Crataegus) are small trees with long, sharp thorns that produce a beautiful red fruit eaten by many songbirds.

Native hawthorns (Crataegus) are small trees, with long, sharp thorns, that produce a beautiful red fruit or “pome” eaten by many songbirds.

American woodbine’s scarlet leaves have fallen to reveal deep-blue berries on fire-red stalks or pedicels.  Woodbine is a close relative of Virginia creeper, but prefers sunnier locations and lacks adhesive cups at the end of its tendrils.

American woodbine berries are a winter food source for some species of songbirds.

American woodbine (Parthenocissus inserta) berries are a winter food source for some species of songbirds.

Many species of rose, both native and cultivated, produce beautiful fruit known as “hips”.  Rose hips are rich in vitamin C and other nutrients.

Squirrels eat the fruit or "hips" of (Rosa 'Henry Kelsey') before they've even ripened.

Squirrels eat the fruit or “hips” of (Rosa ‘Henry Kelsey’) before the fruit has even ripened.

rosehips3

Smooth rose (Rosa blanda) produces nutritious hips favored by many mammals and birds.

The feathery white plumes of starry false Solomon’s seal have grown into plump berries that gradually changed from bright green to beige mottled with coppery red, and now are bright, translucent red.

Ripe berries of starry false Solomon's seal (Maianthemum racemosum) hang in plumes.

Ripe berries of starry false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) hang in plumes.

Milkweed Seeds

Last summer, hummingbirds, butterflies and bees nectared in the pale pink blossoms of common milkweed that grows in our back garden.  Now in mid-November, the thick, fibrous stalks and leaves have died back.  Last week, the rough, oval pods split open and released their small, coffee-brown seeds, each one surrounded by an arc of silk to sail it on the wind.  They seem such delicate creations to be floating November’s raw skies and, for me, symbolize the beauty and life that will return next spring.

The delicate-looking seeds of common milkweed escape their pods.

The delicate-looking seeds of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) escape their pods.

Before the pod opens, the milkweed seeds are tightly arranged in orderly rows around a central core.

Before the pod opens, the milkweed seeds and their silky “parachutes” are tightly arranged in orderly rows around a central column.

Last summer a bumblebee fertilized the flower that formed the milkweed pod I photographed above.

Last July, a bumblebee fertilized the blossoms that became today’s seeds.

November Moonrise

I miss the long, light days of summer with their extended periods of predawn and dusky twilight.  But, if there’s an advantage to the lengthy winter nights, it is the beauty and greater visibility of the moon and constellations.  The sun’s lower angle allows the moon to be visible during some daylight hours of the winter months.  The planet Venus also is visible high on the southern horizon in the late afternoon and early evening, and is referred to as the “evening star”.

The November moon rises in mid-afternoon.

The November moon rises in mid-afternoon.

A good resource to find out about what’s currently visible in the night sky — such as planets, constellations, comets, meteor showers and other heavenly objects — is Sky and Telescope‘s “This Week’s Sky at a Glance”.

November moonrise through red maple (Acer rubrum).

November moonrise through red maple (Acer rubrum).

Late-Season Ladybugs and a Lacewing

After a couple of unseasonably chilly days that put a skin of ice on a neighborhood pond, the temperature rebounded into the mid-50s on Thursday and Friday.  Many non-native multicolored Asian ladybug beetles came out of hiding and scurried about on sun-warmed concrete sidewalks and stone walls.

An Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis) soaks up the afternoon sun.

A multicolored Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis) soaks up the afternoon sun.

I’m not an expert at distinguishing between native and Asian ladybugs, but those I photographed seem to have characteristics of Asian ladybugs:  an “M” or “W” mark (depending on the viewing angle) on the thorax between the head and abdomen, variations in color among individual beetles, variations in the number of spots on wing covers among individuals, and remaining active into late autumn.

Individual Asian ladybugs show greater variation in color and number of spots number of spots amo

Individual multicolored Asian ladybugs show greater variation in number of spots and color than native species.

Asian ladybugs can be a competitive threat to native species and are sometimes pests indoors during the winter.  One November evening several years ago, we drove to our cabin for the weekend.  The ladybugs had gone into hibernation and when we heated the cabin, the warmth awakened a group of about 60 Asian ladybugs that had found a way inside.  They preferred the lights to us and were lined up like beads on a necklace around the tops of lamp shades, and on a lengthy pull-chain for a ceiling fan and light.  We never saw them again, so they must have found their way outside in the spring.

Like native ladybug species, Asian ladybugs eat large numbers of garden and agricultural pests, such as aphids.

Like native ladybug species, Asian ladybugs eat large numbers of garden and agricultural pests such as aphids.

I also found a green lacewing (Chrysopidae) on a window screen.  Lacewings destroy large numbers of garden and agricultural pests such as aphids and other small insects.  (I apologize for the poor photograph taken through the screen; unfortunately, the lacewing flew away as I went outside to photograph it.)

A green lacewing perched on a window screen soaks up suns itself.

A green lacewing (Chrysopidae) perched on a window screen suns itself.

The lacewing was a lovely and delicate gift on a late-autumn day; a symbol of spring to remember during the long winter.

November Maples

Ash trees are bare and golden birch leaves are falling rapidly.  Maple trees — red, silver and black species — smolder in shades of red, orange, gold and yellow on Saint Paul’s boulevards.  A mild, sunny day with strong, gusty southwest winds pulled many leaves from the trees, piling them in corners, catching them in bushes and long grass, and decorating all things still green with the fire of autumn.

Several species of maple show their colors on our St. Paul, MN, avenue.

Several species of maple display their colors on our St. Paul, MN, street.

A southwest wind blew together a small pile of maple and apple leaves with ash keys nestled next to blue fescue 'Elijah blue'.

A southwest wind blew together a small pile of maple leaves, apple leaves and ash keys nestled next to blue fescue ‘Elijah blue’.

A maple leaf, 'autumn blaze', glows against the dark green of a yew where it was trapped by the wind.

An ‘autumn blaze’ maple leaf glows against a deep green yew where the wind trapped it.

A bright patchwork sewn of maple leaves decorates our front lawn.

A bright patchwork of maple leaves decorates our front lawn.

Autumn Leaves Part II

Aspen, hazelnut, oak — both red and white — add their glow to the autumn hardwood forest.    Carotenoid pigments, which color pumpkins, yellow squash and corn, produce yellow, gold and orange leaf coloration.  Anthocyanins produce red and purple colors in raspberries, grapes, cherries and some autumn leaves.  The brown coloration found in some species of oak is produced by tannins, which also color tea, some kinds of wine, and some nuts, such as walnuts, pecans and acorns.   On a recent day-trip to our cabin, I photographed changing leaves in the woods along the Snake River in east central Minnesota.  Each tree has a unique beauty in the shape and color of its autumn leaves.

Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) is a member of the Beech family.

Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) is a member of the Beech tree family.

Bur Oak or Mossycup Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) leaves turn yellow or brown in autumn.

Bur or Mossycup Oak leaves (Quercus macrocarpa) turn yellow or brown in autumn.

Amaerican hazelnut (Corylus americana) bushes grow in thickets along the riverbank.

American hazelnut (Corylus americana) bushes grow in thickets along the riverbank and produce rose-colored autumn leaves.

A grove of quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) grows west of our cabin.

A grove of quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) soars skyward.

Aspen leaves tremblein the most gentle breeze and create a soothing rustle.

Quaking aspen leaves tremble in the most gentle breeze and create a soft, soothing, rain-like sound.