Sunday, September 18, 2005

Berry Ramble

Dogwood berries seem to be covering the big tree shading the front deck. They are as red as I've ever seen them. Southeasterners know dogwood trees make red berries in the Fall, so why is this a big deal? Most Southeasterners also know about dogwood blight, one on the many many diseases killing signature trees in the South.

Killing off our Southern legacy is a time honored tradition.

Chestnuts were the first to go. Chestnut wood is amazing stuff. Beautiful, hard, resistant to rot and insects...not to fungus though. Chestnut wood was so good, that some lumbermen were disappointed that it didn't grow back fast enough after they cut it all down. They wanted "more"...someone always does. As the American Chestnut was timbered into scarcity, the Chinese Chestnut was brought into America to make up for it. Riding along on the Chinese tree was a fungus that spread to every American Chestnut tree...they mostly all died.

Rumor has it that there are a few blight resistant trees out there, but so far, an American Chestnut recovery is a distant goal.

Reality is that the dominant tree of the Great Smoky Mountains is gone. A testament to the carelessness and shortsightedness of greed. I have seen a picture of an American Chestnut tree that was fifteen feet in diameter. Now, we usually see the sprouts on the old surviving roots and that's all. The bark cracks open and they die after a while.

The spruce trees in the Smokies had a big die off because of an insect brought here by nurserymen. And the wooly adelgid is in the process of killing all the hemlocks. Oak trees have their own killing fungus known as "Sudden Oak Death" disease. And the asian tiger beetle is destroying American hardwoods in some areas and spreading.

Now the dogwood is dying.

It is a slow process. I have been working on the one next to my deck, which has the double whammy of the fungus and the house being too close. Dogwoods require acidity and concrete foundations are not good for that. So far, adding acidity to the soil and fertilizing with tree stakes seems to be helping. This year, three is strong enough to produce lots of berries, even though the leaves are smaller than they should be. I enjoy dogwood trees and their fall colors, starting with the berries... then the leaves turn fall colorful, and then, for a while before the birds eat them, there are just the berries left on a bare tree.

For now, the dogwood tree looks like it will make it another year, holding up the suet feeder and the hummingbird bottle. If it ever dies, I plan to make something out of the wood. It's the least I could do.




  1. I had a beautiful little wild dogwood tree right outside my door when I lived in Cumberland Gap years ago. It was a cheerful thing, any time of year. The garden variety generally leave me cold.

  2. The wild dogwood here, on Texas ranchland, survives by growing (ill-shaped, defensive) in a cluster of oak, hackberry, persimmon and other trees and surrounded at the bottom by agarita bushes.

    (If you haven't experienced agarita, let me assure you that you could build a prison for the most dangerous of criminals, dispense with the fencing, and just put agarita bushes and they'd never get across it! It has leaves that look like holly -- no relation -- with lethal razor-wire edges and then goes and produces berries, in late spring, which make The Best Damn Jelly in the world if you don't mind losing a finger or two while picking them. Anyway, they keep the dogwood safe from deer and cattle.)

    But you've inspired me, Steve. I have a high-fenced yard created entirely to encourage native species which cattle and deer have decimated. Why didn't I think of putting in a dogwood. Will do so in asap.

  3. Hey -- speaking of birds and small trees and berries -- can I assume you have possum haws (ilex decidua, not the viburnum variety) in your territory?

  4. Hmm...We have the mountain dogwood, but it's smaller and more rare.

    Possum Haws?

    I'll have to look that one up. We danged sure got possums. Gramma Veal used to cook one up for us after the sweet potatoes came in. Parboiled possum baked with sweet potatoes and candied sauce. I believe we had that the week before Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving weekend was for making cane syrup. That's pronounced "Surp" for those of you who've never ridden a mule.


  5. AARGH!! (Though if you've eaten fried grasshoppers and sheeps' eyeballs, anything is possible.) And hey, bud, I had my own mule with "cantareros" which I used to fill with groceries and mail and hall ass and ass back up hill. IF I knew how to post a photo here, I'd do it...

    Someday I'll lay on you my possum story. Meanwhile, the other night, I had to get one of those armored possums we get in Texas out of my yard. Armed with a rake and a hose, rushing about at 2 a.m., stark naked, dogs barking... Whatsa matta! You think I'm some kind of citified sissy?

    Possum haws also grow in Tennesee.