Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mother Nature's Amethyst

Fall in the piney woods of east Texas, brings the colorful leaves of the Sweetgum and Sassafras trees
but nothing compares to the amethyst jewel-like berries of American Beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana). This plant also goes by the names French Mulberry, American Mulberry, Spanish Mulberry, Bermuda Mulberry, Sour-bush, Sow-berry.

East Texas, with its rich woods and thickets, provides the perfect growing conditions for this understory plant. It is best suited to semi-shade sites with moisture although it can tolerate full sun if given supplemental watering. And, as we have seen the last couple of years, it can tolerate some drought. It has long arching branches which can be pruned in half in the winter to create a more compact shrub. In summer, Beautyberry has small, greenish-white flowers but Mother Nature blesses this plant with clusters of deep purple berries in late summer and fall.  
Enjoy the berries. . .the seeds are favorites of our Robins and Cedar Waxwings – so much so that the berries will disappear in a matter of days. Birds do the propagating of this plant when they deposit the already ‘fertilized’ seeds. Other critters that enjoy the fruit are armadillos, raccoons, wood rats, foxes, opossums and deer.

American Beautyberry has long been used as a folk remedy to prevent mosquito bites. Old timers talk about crushing the leaves and putting them under the harnesses of their horses and mules to repel flies.
Native Americans used the Beautyberry as a diuretic, a cure for dropsy, dysentery and stomach aches, colic and for sweat baths for the treatment of malaria, rheumatism and fevers. The USDA Agriculture Research Service has patented the 4 chemicals in this plant as a mosquito repellent. However, the toxicity is still unknown. I have tried crushing the leaves and rubbing them on my legs to see if this works and it appears it does. One site I found recommended boiling the leaves, straining and combing the liquid with oil and rubbing it onto the skin. As always, do your own research before trying this.

American Beautyberry berries are edible when fully ripened but only in very small quantities. Again, do your research before sampling. Fully ripened, the berries will be dark purple or magenta but not wrinkled or dry. The berries are mealy and have a medicinal flavor so I don’t know why anyone would eat them. They can be made into a beautiful jelly and there are several recipes on the internet. The jelly tastes of rose petals and champagne. The berries can also be made into wine. Now we are talking!

If you have Beautyberry on your property, consider keeping this plant in your gardens not only for food for wildlife but for the fall eye-candy.

Garden on!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Autumn Stroll Around the Ranch

A little solitary time for this doe

Homeowners have begun decorating for the upcoming season

Last of the Poke berries

Even though scorched, this Sweetgum is showing its fall colors
The Sweetgums are one of the first trees to change colors here

A lush carpet of moss

Some creature's hidey hole

This dogwood has no leaves but is full of fruit

Art in nature

Even a log pile can be art

White Gayfeather (Liatris)

The oak leaves are beginning to change

Jack-o-lantern mushroom (Omphalotus olearius) - I think

American Beautyberry (Calicarpis americana)

The Yaupons have fruited

Resurrection Fern

Sassafras trees are unusual because they have three distinct 
leaf patterns on the same plant, unlobed oval, bilobed (mitten-shaped), and trilobed (three-pronged)
Colorful trilobed Sassafras leaves