Archive for March, 2011

March 25, 2011

Shad-blow in Bloom

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
                                                                          – Juliet

One of our native roses has been called many other names.

An early springtime drive across the Osage Hills reveals a patchwork of white-flowered trees and shrubs. Most of these belong to the rose family, Rosaceae. This includes not only the weedy wild rose, but the wild cherry, plums, and hawthorns as well. Their flowers are so very similar that identification based on this feature alone is often difficult or impossible.

One of these “roses” reaches its western edge in eastern Oklahoma. Its flower is easily differentiated from close relatives by the long and narrow crepe-like petals. In the main area of Osage Hills State Park, this is the first spring tree with showy flowers. The resulting fruit, although dry and tasteless, resembles a subminiature purple apple.

These miniature apples were used by early Canadian trappers (probably from a closely related species). They had adopted a food from the natives called pemmican. This was a blend of powdered meat held together with animal fat. There wasn’t much to be said about the flavor, especially after months on the trail, so fruits were often mixed in to offset the taste. It is said that these miniature apples did good “service” as a flavor enhancer, so they called them “serviceberries.” (The hard and heavy wood is easy to work, making it of good service, as well.)  Through time and a relaxed vernacular, the trees became known simply as “sarvis.”

The fruit of the sarvis tree ripens in late spring. Where this occurs in May, the tree became known as the May-cherry. Further north, where maturity is delayed a few weeks, folks have preferred the name Juneberry.

In a past age, before the dawn of the polymer, anglers would have recognized a lance-wood rod as one of the finer fishing poles on the market. Lance-wood is the commercial trade name for the wood of this domestic tree.

Flowers of the Downy Serviceberry, Amelanchier arboreaThe purple fruits propagated the name “currant tree.” Still others have favored wild Indian pear as a sobriquet. It has even been called the sugarplum, but it hasn’t anything to do with Tchaikovsky’s dancing fairies.

This tree’s white bloom clusters appear in the Atlantic states when certain fish, called shad, begin to move up tidal streams to breed. This has spawned such names as shadberry, shad-bush, and shadblow.  (While we don’t have these shad in Oklahoma, the local crappie do begin their run when the blooms appear.)

The most common name for this species today is the Downy Serviceberry.

Perhaps we can eliminate this confusing catalog of common names by reverting to the Latin nomenclature. The downy serviceberry is Amelanchier arborea.      . . .However, your tree book may call it Amelanchier canadensis . . .   So maybe not.

March 17, 2011

Multiple Victims in Recent Drive-by: March Wildflowers

March wildflowers in the Osage Hills are inconspicuous at best.

The Prairie Trout Lily is just about the closest thing you’ll find to a proper flower.  And ‘though the spruce-green leaves are trimmed in purple and the powder-blue-to-white petals are nearly as long as the stem, at a mere three inches tall the whole affair is scarcely noticeable among the big gray oaks.

Also blooming now are the tiny flowers of the henbit, small bluets, and spring beauties.

The rest of the contenders hardly resemble flowers at all.  The greenish-yellow flowers of the slippery and American elms are going strong, but a dozen laid side-by-side would scarcely span an inch!  The Silver Maple flowers, visible to the close observer, are a mere ¼” long and have even less color than the bud they stem from.  The male flowers (called catkins) on the cottonwood and river birch trees look like nothing more than short lengths of pipe cleaner on the end of twigs.

Unfortunately, none of these can be appreciated from behind a windshield.  Most March wildflowers in the Osage Hills remain the victims of drive-by tourists.

March 6, 2011

Wah-Sha-She Included in Oklahoma State Park Closures

Wah-Sha-She State Park is among the list of seven state parks slated for permanent closure on August 15th, 2011.  ( Tulsa World Article: Seven Oklahoma state parks to be closed )

Wah-Sha-She State Park is located on Lake Hulah in Copan, Oklahoma (north and west of Bartlesville, OK) on the edge of the tallgrass and crosstimbers regions.  The park is currently managed by Osage Hills State Park, however it sits on Corps of Engineers land.  I’ll save the eulogy, however, until we see what happens on August 16th.  In the meantime, here are some random pictures taken around Wah-Sha-She State Park over the past few years.

March 3, 2011

Beaver Seen in Bobcat Hollow

This beaver lives in a burrow in the stream bank under a sycamore tree.  The entrance is underwater and therefore invisible at a passing glance.  Most beavers in Osage Hills State Park make similar hard-to-find homes, and only occasionally build a dam or a rounded stick lodge.  Even with a hidden entrance, footprints and gnawed vegetation let you know that a beaver, Oklahoma’s largest rodent, must surely live nearby.