Cherry Springs State Park, I’m told, is named for groves of black cherry trees–

its evening sky,  the clearest and darkest in Pennsylvania.

These days by Little Crum Creek, hours from the skygazers I’ll one night join,

a single black cherry briefly flowers the white light of our nearest star.

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Each morning, first thing:  canopy over Little Crum Creek.
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awake–                                felled trees–                          the clarity of our time
….snowfall                           ….spaces that shape
……..traced limbs

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John Bartram introduced Europe’s most widely spread maple tree to Philadelphia in the 1750s, and it’s probably best known for some seasonal features.

In summer, the Norway maple casts a deep leafy shade on the ground.

And kids like to peel open its ripening green samaras, pasting the sticky sides to their noses.

In late fall, the tree’s foliage is brilliant yellow.

And its browning seed pods helicopter down in copious amounts, seeming to fill every surrounding inch and crack of ground.

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Now, in spring, with so many other trees in bloom, it can be easy to overlook the Norway maple’s green inflorescence.

Fortunately a gray squirrel happens along, nibbles off a twig, and lets it fall to the ground.

Then we get a better look at the clustered flowers, resting on the tree’s surfacing roots, amid the refuse of prior seasons.

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Thanks to spring blooms that fed the bees
that pollinated the flowers that produced fall’s fruit,
a gray squirrel dangles from hind legs, to pluck a ripe crabapple,
and nibble the food in its paws on a nearby branch.

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In certain cultures, it might be improper to tell stories out of season.

Nature sharing can feel that way too.

But when some of the year’s last fruits hang from their branches, I can’t help but see a whole tree abloom like spring.

Culmination of our seasons, late fall’s crabapple makes even that floral expression seem present today.

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Vestige of summer, and brightest of autumn’s early colors,

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a yellowing ash tree in the sun yet unleaves its burning tongues

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to winds that whisper a nearing winter and fallen moments gone.

 

Extending at sharp angles over Little Crum Creek, a couple of scrappy-looking boxelder trees cling to their crumbling banks.

One arches like a wineberry cane–its end tipping the water–while the other stretches toward the sky.

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Each of these maples creates luxuriant chandeliers of male flowers from mid-March through early April.

And just now, spring leaves are quickly succeeding the increasingly stringy blooms.100_9748edcropA100_9829edcropA
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Though its autumn leaves are yellow and not the commonly cited red, and though it never fruits the hallmark crimson keys we’d call “helicopters,” I can finally pin a name to the indifferent subject of my long but casual scrutiny:

a red maple tree.

Other identifying characteristics have been evident throughout the year…

I’ve gathered three-lobed leaves fallen from their opposite arrangement on summer branches, accidentally peeled plated bark from the trunk when tugging climbing ivy, collected many brittle branches dropped to the woodland floor, and patiently watched wine-red twigs and buds endure a long winter.

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But it’s a small flower that finally proves the name.

In early spring, a single red maple can flower a marriage of male and female blooms, a union that will likely produce a bunch of winged seeds.

Other individuals might present exclusively male or female flowers.

The female kind may be pollinated by male neighbors and thereby fruit seeded helicopters.

But this particular red maple has revealed its own dispositon along Little Crum Creek:  a naturally confirmed bachelorhood of total male florescence that won’t be going to seed.100_9467edcropC100_9522edcropC                                                                                                      .

100_9543edcropANow, why its leaves turn yellow in fall, and not red, I can’t yet say.

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The mulberry was a popular tree this spring, hosting a bevy of birds and squirrels each day in its fruit-filled branches.  Gray catbirds were most numerous.  Flitting quickly from perch to perch, they’d pluck and swallow berries as big as their beaks got wide.  Robins fed here too.

If correctly identified, three of these trees seem like a good representation of how mulberries are distributed in the southern portion of Pennsylvania.

100_5873cropHNearest the creek, one tree’s leaves are primarily lobed, feeling finely-haired on the bottom and more like sandpaper on top.  Red and purple berries hang between them.  These traits characterize our native red mulberry tree whose edible fruit was valuable to both Native Americans and European settlers. Bark and roots were used medicinally, fibers were good for rope and weaving, and its wood made good fence and boating material.

100_4960cropHA little further from the creek, at the bottom of a slope, is a smoothly oval-leafed variety of mulberry.  Its white unripe berries were one of the catbird’s favorites. But these berries also ripened to pink, red, and purple this spring.  Unlike our native red, the white mulberry tree hails from China. Entrepreneurs brought it in the 18th and 19th centuries to feed the worms and ambitions of a silk industry that never spun a fortune. The white mulberry subsequently spread so extensively that it often outnumbers the red.  Many call it a weed.

multi-colored berries, click for close-up ... hybrid tree?The white and red trees have even hybridized, making identification particularly difficult.  That brings me to the top of the hill and a mulberry with variously shaped leaves. They are not as smooth on top as the white mulberry, and not nearly as gravelly as the red. Some feel a bit hairy on the bottom. Others, not so much.  Berries turn from white-pinkish to purplish-black.  I’m not sure which to call it–a hybrid perhaps.

Whatever variety, the mulberry perfectly hosted many in its branches this year.  Its fruit came plentifully and has now gone the way of spring. The robins, squirrels, and catbirds are finding new spots to feed.

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The creek carries all kinds of things.

Here are so many fleeting flowers from a large-leafed and showily inflorescent catalpa tree somewhere upstream.

Whether from the northern or southern species, I’m not sure.    Each tree is native to the southeastern U.S., named for the Native American Catawba tribe of the Carolinas, and now naturalized in PA along low-lying moist woods such as ours. 

Beside its leaves and flowers, you might recognize a catalpa for its long, slender seed pods, and perhaps know it better as the Indian-bean or cigar tree.