Sorry if you’re tired of fall color, but we tree-dwellers wait all year for this!
It’s a weekend to celebrate our mystery column: This is the two hundredth mystery post on The Squirrel Nutwork!
And what better way to celebrate than with a mystery acorn!
Sigh, isn’t that a lovely sight?
That’s not too hard, is it? I mean, to guess what type of oak tree it came from?
I’ll check for your guesses in the comments–and if you really want a hint…here is one pictured below.
This beautiful acorn is from the Black Oak, Quercus velutina. Yes, it’s hard to tell the similar leaves of the black and red oak families apart. One way is the acorns. The Black Oak acorns are shorter and round. The leaves of the Black Oak turn a coppery color in the fall, not red like the Northern Red Oak. And, this is the best leaf difference any time of year, on the back of a Black Oak leaf, tufts of hair fill the angle of space between the main vein and the branching veins (called the axil!). Hope you human readers can see those tufts on the lower, yellowish, dotted leaf.
But either tree is beautiful to us squirrels and the acorns tasty!
And falling like crazy with the winds coming through!
Something edible–for wildlife only!–is ripening now.
If you have a guess of what it is, please post in the comments. I’ll check back later!
Maybe another hint?
The fruits of the Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida, are ripening now and their flesh being picked at by the birds: Cardinals, titmice, bluebirds, and the juncos–when they arrive.
They won’t last long, even if they aren’t very tasty! We squirrels find that birds are’t that picky.
It’s not only acorns that are falling, the leaves are following…
or more specifically, this leaf has fallen. If you know what kind it is, or just have a guess and want to play, give me an answer in the comments!
We squirrels don’t see this too often–a doubly compound leaf. The smaller leaflets are actually leaflets of the larger leaf. In fact, Miz Flora tells us that this small tree can even have triply compound leaves!
It’s a Devil’s Walkingstick or Hercules Club, Aralia spinosa, which if you try to climb the trunk, your paws will tell you exactly correct. Usually growing at the sunny edges of woods, this native tree can grow to 20 feet tall where they lean their huge flower heads out, letting bees and butterflies find them.
Now, in the fall, each of the tiny flowers has become a berry.
We squirrels don’t eat them–can’t get to them!–but they seem to disappear. It’s the birds, of course, thrushes, sparrows and pigeons, but Miz Flora says she’s seen fox and skunk eating them. And chipmunks–they must be waiting for them to fall! That’s the only way to get them that Nutmeg and I can figure out.
Even if it’s not something we eat, this is a pretty cool tree that seems almost hidden from humans.
Any idea what these things on the leaves are?
Check back with you later!
Guess we should have clarified that these things are not ‘on’ the leaves but are growing out of them. That’s what happens when something gets into the leaf tissue and the leaf doesn’t like it. This might be an insect laying an egg or a fungus spore getting into a wound. The tree cells rally and create a ‘gall’ around the invader. Different plants create different galls, the most famous and noticeable being the Oak Apple Gall. (Squirrel kits have to learn that those are not food, since they grow where we expect acorns!)
We had to write back to our reader to learn what kind of a tree this was…by the way, thank you to Jeanine for allowing us to use her photos for today’s mystery!
The tree looks like a type of wild cherry, but we’re not sure which.
So with that information, we were able to narrow our search and came up with spindle galls. Viette’s Views gardening blog has an excellent photo essay on galls which includes notes on spindle galls, caused by microscopic mites called eriophyid mites.
Ok, that sound like a bug you can’t stop, and the tree is dealing with it the best it can!
Beautiful mystery, aren’t they? We grabbed these photos before the Hawthorn tree leafed out so the thorns stood out.
Also called the thornapple, hawberry and May-tree, because of course it blooms in May–right now!
The bees are abuzz over it, fighting many other insects for the pleasure. We squirrels will stand clear until fall–then we can’t resist the little ‘pomes,’ the fruit, the hawthorn grows–and then we will be fighting the cardinals and cedar waxwings!
Humans have long noticed this tree, of which some species stay shrubby. The blossoms are thought to bring fortune, and for the Greeks, hope. They carried flowering branches in their wedding precessions. But our wildly variable weather here in Virginia this year makes this Scottish saying true: “Ne’er cast a cloot til Mey’s oot.” Never shed your clothes before the May flowers (Hawthorn!) have bloomed.