Thursday, May 20, 2010

Some Fruits in Bloom

Just a quick trip out to Skidmore today to see what's up in the woods. I thought it might be a little too early to find Orange-fruited Horse Gentian in bloom, but the plants were certainly looking healthy and full-grown. Although this plant is not on New York's rare plant list, I believe it is not very common around here, and it's certainly threatened in many surrounding states. I think it's such an interesting plant, so I'm really happy to know where it grows.

At a glance, it looked like the flowers that circle the stems were still hiding among their dark sepals, but then a sunbeam sneaked under the leaves and lit up this wreath of blooms down low on the stalk.

Here's a closer view of one flower, revealing a pollen-dusted protruding pistil.

These blooms will turn into marble-sized orange berries containing the three hard seeds that inspired this plant's scientific name: Triosteum aurantiacum, meaning "three-boned orange-colored plant" (or something like that). A closely related species, T. perfoliatum or Wild Coffee, has similar berries that can be roasted like coffee beans. I've never found that plant, nor have I tried roasting the seeds of T. aurantiacum and brewing some ersatz coffee. I have tasted the fruits, however, and found them seedy and insipid but mildly sweet.

Here's a plant whose fruit is certainly worth picking and eating, if you don't mind spending an hour to gather maybe a cup. This is the Wood Strawberry (Fragaria vesca ssp. americana), related to the more common Wild Strawberry (F. virginiana) and having even smaller but even more intensely flavored fruits.

What distinguishes this strawberry is the way the flowers, growing on stalks of unequal length, are held high above the leaves. Its flowers are also a little smaller than those of the Wild Strawberry, and its berries have their seeds on the surface instead of being imbedded in the flesh.

Unfortunately, the only place I ever find them is here in the Skidmore woods, where I would not be allowed to pick them. Well, maybe just a few, if the birds haven't got them first.

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