Berry Time in Tennessee!


Not quite ripe berries.
Some not quite ripe fruit near House Mountain.

It was just barely berry time a few weeks ago at the bottom of House Mountain. Meaning back in Tennessee it should be berry season now. I’m in New Hampshire meaning I have wild blueberries to eat, but anyone in Tennessee can enjoy the berries you have now. Any overgrown clearing, such as the one near House Mountain should be teeming with blackberries and raspberries.

Some taste sour when not quite ready, but so long as they’re at least kind of black, I tend to dig in.

My book “Wildly Strolling Along” has a section on Tennessee’s wild fruit, which I encourage you to check out. Blackberries and raspberries aren’t actually berries in the botanical sense of the word, but rather aggregate fruit. They’re pretty distinctive looking things and as my botanist Dad told me recently, no toxic fruit look like them.

If you want to learn more about which blackberries, blackberries or dewberries the ones in your area (if you’re in Tennessee) might be, check out this page  from the same university that gave my Dad his degree. Go Vols!

 

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Does whatever a spiderwort can


Spider wort
Spiderwort at House Mountain near Knoxville, Tennessee

It’s time for summer wildflowers in East Tennessee, including spiderworts.

That link, by the way, is for people who want a scholarly overview of what in Latin are called Tradescantia. The truth is, I can recognize the genus, but need my Dad, Dr. Larry Pounds along to look closely with his field glass give the precise species. I love hiking independently from him, but sometimes I feel like he spoiled me in that now I miss being able to name every single species. The plant has long leaves with a small flower in the middle.

I know the name sounds like some kind of wizard school. “Wort” spelled that way is an old word for “plant” and has ended up in quite a few plant names.

I’ve seen spiderworts in the Cumberlands as my Dad and I discuss in our book: Wildly Strolling Along. Get your copy today at that link to learn more about Dad me and the plants of Tennessee!). The ones shown in this post however were from last weekend at House Mountain’s Mountain Trail.

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St John’s wort on Melton Lake Greenway


St. Johnswort

Bright yellow bushes of shrubby St. John’s wort greet visitors to the Melton Lake Grenway’s Boardwalk in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in summer. The bright yellow flowers are still distinctive against the dim evening light and the dark blue of Melton Hill Lake.

Melton Lake Greenway’s boardwalk isn’t for everyone. It’s right next to a coal fired steam plant, which might be enough of a turn off for many to not even consider what the trail has to offer.

But what it has to offer at this time of year is bright yellow St. John’s wort flowers, many birds and fishing, although none of the fellows I saw seemed to catch anything. As Yvonne put it, the area looks like a marsh on the edge of the ocean, even if all it borders on is a narrow lake.

St. Johnswort is a reminder of how lost I am at identifying and talking about plants without my dear old “kickass botanist” Dad. For more on our relationship read our book., but in short, he’s been around to identify every plant around us on every hike for most of my life since I was toddling around barely taller than the roots in the trails we walked.

After hearing recently from him the bushes that had so delighted Yvonne and I was St. Johnswort, I quickly did some research and saw, the US Department of Agriculture says it is an exotic plant that crowds out native species and poisons livestock. So, in an earlier version of this post, one that earned me three “likes” already I wrote:

“A non-Tennessee plant on an artificial lake, surrounded by power cables and towers. And yet I somehow still enjoy the landscape.”

All well and good, but wrong. As Dad pointed out and I should have figured out, there are multiple species of St. Johnswort and the one we were looking at, which grows as a bush, i.e. Shrubby St. Johnswort was native.

St. John's wort by dim light.
St. John’s wort by dim light.

At any rate, most people if they think about any variety of plant at all, think about it as an herbal tea that’s supposed to make people feel emotionally better, curing anxiety and depression. It often works for me, although Yvonne loathes its taste.

I should hate those semen-scented Bradford pear trees


“Although it’s difficult to describe, the most accurate description of the Callery’s budding flowers would be something like a pungent whiff of freshly excreted semen. Sure, you could euphemize and say it smells like a wet, dirty mop dipped in floury fish guts, but isn’t that much more disgusting than likening it to a natural bodily fluid?”

Westworld.com.

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Among the earliest of my area’s spring flowers, the Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana), just finished its little white explosions and started opening its leaves. My house’s lawn came with a row of them, and I’ve grown to like them, even though everybody hates them and I should too. I’m working on it.

Heck, I even like their little white explosions out on the edges of fields, although, again, I shouldn’t.

Probably the best source on the subject is this scholarly paper, although I’m just summarizing it here.

It’s an ornamental tree from Asia, popularly known as the “Bradford,” although the “Bradford” is just one of many cultivars (varieties created by grafting). It wowed Americans with its ability to stand up to droughts and disease. However, Bradfords split in half easily, so they’re really not as hardy as people thought.

All the varieties of  Calleryana we have are cultivars, meaning they have to be grafted and can’t self fertilize like other trees. However, different cultivars can cross pollinate, and the trees have gone wild.

Tennessee Invasive Plant Council considers it an invasive species, meaning that it pushes out native plants. My Dad, plant ecologist Dr. Larry Pounds agrees and told me some feral varieties can get pretty thorny.

I doubt, however, we’ll ever see the Great Smoky Mountains covered in white round trees that smell of semen however. Dad told me he hasn’t seen them growing in forests and it’s easy to see why. Like many ornamental trees, they don’t exactly tower. They stay at a pretty small size.