Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November colors

Marina di Chioggia squash, with gourds, as Halloween decoration.  No, I did not grow them (Comus Market and Butler's).  The little chip out of the green gourd is thanks to a squirrel - that was yesterday, and today the same or a similarly-minded squirrel came by, and the other "eye" is completely gone.  Oh well.  They know us too well by now... end of October, snacks on the front porch!  Somewhere in the "archives" (notice how that goes in quotes.  Oh, to organize the photos someday) we have a squirrel-buried-head-deep-in-squash collection (I'll post them here if I find them).  They really like the seeds, and I suppose the flesh provides vitamins.  We have a very healthy squirrel population.

So, anyway, I went around yesterday taking pictures of autumn leaves, as one does, and the variety is quite satisfying, though if we didn't have as much space we could get the same variety just by growing sweetgum.  Green, orange, yellow, red, purple, and various combinations thereof, with speckles, all on one tree at one time!  Never mind that it has a nasty girdling root we really have to deal with, shades the vegetable garden, and drops annoying little hedgehog-balls (though I mention that only because people who have the trees in their front yards complain about them.  They don't bother me).  Sweetgum is the fish pepper of trees, and you can go look that up if you don't know what it is, though I will certainly have more to say on the subject later.

I'm also quite fond of our red maple, which is the October Glory cultivar, meaning of course that it is most spectacular in November.  (Around here.  I am generously concluding that it was developed up north.)

And while we're on red leaves, I try to mention to everyone who wants to grow fruit and knows that all edible plants are ugly and you have to tuck them into a plant ghetto where no one can see them, that really blueberries are rather nice in many seasons.  (Ha ha, tongue in cheek (I never know whether people can tell).  The only reason to ghettoize edible plants, and it's more like installing them in a gated community, is to keep away the deer, groundhogs, rabbits or whatever you have a problem with, which is done with a Fence A Bit Better Than The One You Put In™, or to keep away the birds, which is done with Bird Entrapment Netting, or to keep away the squirrels, which is done with a very good imagination.  Birds only eat about a quarter of my landscape blueberries, and no, I don't know why nor can I replicate it for you.)

There's a nice discussion of why leaves turn color in autumn here.  I was aware that with abscission (signaled by day length changes) the chlorophyll that makes leaves green is blocked, and therefore the other pigments in the leaves are revealed; that's true of xanthophylls, which make yellow, and carotenoids, which make orange.  What I didn't know was that anthocyanins, which make red and purple, are not present in the leaves all year; they're only manufactured from the sugars trapped in the leaves at abscission.  As if they had eaten too much Halloween candy, I suppose.

Aside from pigments, the other thing that gets revealed, a little later in the process when the leaves entirely fall off, is the branch structure of the plant.  Flesh dropping off to reveal the skeleton, very Día de los Muertos.  This one's a magnolia shrub (one of the "Little Girl" series, and it is either Anne or Jane and I don't remember which; the other one is out back), and one revelation was that it has apparently suckered or layered or whatever it does best, and there are a couple of new plants under there which I might well be able to dig up and transplant somewhere else.  Hurray, free plants.

The other magnolia (either Jane or Anne) actually has a cat buried under it, so there you are.  Skeletons.  The nice thing about plant skeletons is that usually they reacquire the covering of leaves in spring (barring... you know), but it's refreshing to see what's underneath for a while.


  1. A colleague has a jack-o-lantern this year courtesy of her local squirrels. They ate a hole through the rind, ate all the seeds, and then started eating the rest of it. So they stuck a candle in it anyway. She said a trick-or-treater asked what kind of face that was, and, when told it was made by a squirrel, pronounced it very cool.

  2. Our squirrels are currently recreating our jack-o-lantern in their own style - I was trying to capture the action on film earlier, but failed. The face looks very ragged and scary now.