Looking Forward to White Raspberry Fruits

As I look out onto the frozen land I see plenty of fruits dancing in my head. The plants look bare, but they’re not barren. The plain-looking sticks that we see will come to life shortly. The thermometer said it was ten degrees on the back porch this morning and it sure felt like it so the dog was fast doing his duty. A little coffee and we’re warm inside again.

The white raspberry canes that we planted a couple of years ago did nicely last summer. The canes were planted in three areas and the two areas that received the most sun provided the most fruit and cane growth. No surprise there.

These everlasting white raspberry canes are kind of stingy with the fruit though. They ripen slowly and only one or two fruits will ripen from a cluster at once. So, you won’t get a lot of fruit at one time – unless you had a great bunch of canes planted. It’s more like a nibble to be enjoyed while walking about outside.

The taste is really sweet, almost perfume-like. The aroma is quite strong unlike other raspberries or blackberries, which don’t seem to have much of a scent.

White raspberry canes.
Holding up a cane that has arched over to the ground you can see others upright in the background. Photo taken 15Jun2010.
Fruits of black raspberry, blueberry and white raspberry.
Going clockwise from the top right, we have wild black raspberries, three types of blueberries and white raspberry fruits. Note the fleshy color of the white raspberries. Photo taken 15Jun2010.

I can’t emphasize strongly enough how good these fruits taste when you pick them right off the vine, so to speak. I never really like blueberries before, but now I can’t wait to get out there in June to sample them again!

Ripening white raspberry cluster.
Cluster of everlasting white raspberries with one ready to pick, two maturing berries, and two that are still small and green. Photo taken 26Jun2010.

The everlasting white raspberries will ripen one or two berries in a cluster at a time, which spreads out the harvest. A second round of berries will ripen in the fall, but they’re not as plentiful as the summer harvest.

Caterpillars Eat Blueberry Leaves: Hairy, Yellow-Orange Stripes on Black

Checking the fruit trees out back one day at the beginning of August, I saw two groups of yellow-orange and black-striped caterpillars. There were a dozen or more caterpillars all huddled at the ends of two empty branches of a blueberry bush. They must have eaten the blueberry leaves with abandon as all the leaves were gone on the stems that the squishy critters were found. None of the other four blueberry plants had any of these caterpillars.

Funny thing is I found them by spotting their poop. Those little grenades tend to collect under caterpillar feeding areas and give away the hungry camoflaged mouths.

Caterpillar scat collecting on bark used as mulch for blueberry bushes. Photos taken 3 August 2010.
Caterpillar scat collecting on bark used as mulch for blueberry bushes. Photos taken 3 August 2010.

Once you see the scat you can more easily spot the critters who deposited it. Caterpillars that have found the right food source will stay put and continue to feed, so their scat is usually directly below where they’ve been feeding. It’s a little surprising that I didn’t see the critters first, because they were all huddled together at the end of the branches.

Group of hairy yellow-orange and black-striped caterpillars at the end of a blueberry branch.
Group of hairy yellow-orange and black-striped caterpillars at the end of a blueberry branch.

Large grouping of caterpillars huddled on one stem near other stems that they striped of leaves.

Large grouping of caterpillars huddled on one stem near other stems that they stripped of leaves.
Prolegs and pedipalps, long hairs and yellow stripes. Anyone know who I am?
Prolegs and pedipalps, long hairs and yellow stripes. Anyone know who I am?

The blueberry shrubs and other fruit trees were checked often in the following weeks, but we haven’t seen this type of caterpillar again. I wonder what type of butterfly they would have morphed into. It’s really too bad they chose to eat from that blueberry bush!

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Blackberries Ripen in July After the Black Raspberries Are Gone

The wild black raspberries were delicious and plentiful this year. They ripen before the wild blackberries, so look for the black raspberries in June. We ate them for about three weeks in June, from the 8th to the 24th. By the end of the month the black raspberries were getting pretty dried up.

These black raspberry fruits were juicy and delicious.
These black raspberry fruits were juicy and delicious. Photo taken 15 June 2010.

Fruits of the two closely related berries are similar, but the raspberries have a hollow center while blackberries do not.

The black raspberry is more desirable as it has fewer and smaller seeds than blackberries do. The taste is similar, but the blackberry might be a little more tangy.

On 27 June 2010 I ate the first handful of large juicy wild blackberries for 2010. The particular cane that provided me with a snack had been mowed over so most of the berries on the cane were killed off early. The cane must have been able to put all its efforts into growing the few fruits that remained. Also, the ripe berries were right next to the ground, so they probably had a little help in the form of heat coming up from the gravel lane. Most of the canes hold their berries two or three feet off the ground.

Juicy ripe blackberries. Photo taken 29 June 2010.
Juicy ripe blackberries.

Blackberry fruits retain their stem so they don’t have a hollow center like raspberries do. Photo above taken 29 June 2010.

Most blackberries don’t ripen much by the beginning of July. At first a few turn from bright green to green with a pale tinge of red. They turn a brighter red before darkening completely.

The heat of July brings on the ripening of the blackberries in earnest. This year has turned out to be quite dry, so the berries may be drying up before they ripen. If we don’t get some rain soon, our plans for making blackberry jelly may have to change.

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Cooking with Sumac Berries

We talked about the different kinds of sumac earlier this week, noting the flower buds and berries. It turns out that people around the world use the red berries of sumac as a spice in cooking. It seems popular in Middle Eastern and Greek culinary styles. In North America most people would probably think of poison sumac when sumac is mentioned and be totally surprised that it’s used in cooking at all.

Sumac berries and a powder made from crushing the berries have a lemony-taste or citrus flavors.

Here are a few links where folks are sharing their recipes for using sumac in cooking —

The citrus-like flavor should go great with meats and vegetables. I haven’t tried any yet, but I fully intend to pick some berries for my kitchen when they are ripe.

  • Food in Istanbul (marginalrevolution.com)
  • A savoury spring salad? You bet your rhubarb (theglobeandmail.com)
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Sumac Flower Buds and Red Berries

Sumac seems to be everywhere around here. If you looked at the wood’s edge, most likely you could find a few sumac shrubs or little trees. It is a common plant, but there are a few different kinds of sumac. One is poisonous, but that occurs mostly in swamps. We don’t have that habitat up here on the mountain ridge, but we do have to keep our eyes open for poison sumac’s nasty cousin, poison ivy!

The Audubon North American Field Guide to Wildflowers describes Fragrant, Poison, Smooth, Staghorn and Winged Sumac in Eastern North America. Smooth, Poison and Fragrant Sumac all have smooth twigs. To be sure, Poison Sumac leaflets are not toothed and its berries are white.

Fragrant Sumac, Rhus aromatica, is a little different in appearance as it only has three leaflets to its compound leaves, where the other sumacs have many more leaflets, like 9 to 31 leaflets.

Smooth Sumac, Rhus glabra, is definitely smooth on the twigs and the many leaflets are untoothed. The leaf stems have a nice blush of purple on them. (Photo of smooth sumac taken on 30 June 2010.)

Smooth sumac berry cluster and several leaves with many untoothed leaflets.
Smooth sumac berry cluster and several leaves with many untoothed leaflets.

Winged Sumac can be differentiated from Staghorn Sumac by the presence of a winged midrib between the leaflets of its pinnately compound leaves. Leaflets are untoothed in Winged Sumac.

Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhina, seems to be the primary species of Sumac in our area. Characteristics that mark this sumac are its hairy twigs, toothed leaflets, and reddish hairs on berry-like fruits. Flowers are green in terminal clusters.

Compound leaves of Staghorn Sumac with many pairs of toothed leaflets.
Compound leaves of Staghorn Sumac with many pairs of toothed leaflets.
Cluster of green flowers and hairy twigs of Staghorn Sumac. Flowers are just beginning to open.
Cluster of green flowers and hairy twigs of Staghorn Sumac. Flowers are just beginning to open.
Another view of Staghorn Sumac blooming.
Another view of Staghorn Sumac blooming. Photos above taken 6 June 2010.

A type of pink lemonade can be made from the ripe red berries of Staghorn Sumac in the summertime. Peterson’s Edible Plant Guide says to bruise the berries, soak for 15 minutes in cold water, strain out the hairs and berries with cheesecloth, sweeten and chill.

Does anyone out there feel adventurous enough to try sumac lemonade? Let us know how you make out!

Mayapples Yellow When Ripe for Lemonade

Mayapple, or American Mandrake, is one of those interesting plants that is easy to recognize because of its uniqueness. No other plant looks quite like the umbrella plant, does it? One or two deeply cut leaves have an overall round shape with a truly variegated edge. No two leaves seem to be alike, yet they are similar.

Appropriately named Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum, starts blooming in the beginning of May. A single large white flower about two inches across blooms underneath the cover of one or two large leaves. The leaves seem to protect the flowers kind of like an umbrella. Check out some nice photos of Mayapple flowers in an earlier post about this native woodland plant.

Mayapple fruit at the fork of two large umbrella-like leaves.
Mayapple fruit at the fork of two large umbrella-like leaves.

Photo above taken 6 June 2010.

A single ripening fruit juts out from between the fork of two Mayapple leaves. I’m not sure what blight caused the yellow spots on the leaves of this Mayapple, but when the foliage is dying back it sometimes happens. Into July we can find mayapples turning yellow even though much of the foliage has already withered away.

The fruit is edible and can be enjoyed as a refreshing cold drink. One year I picked a handful of yellow fruit, cut them up and squeezed out the liquid in to a glass of ice cubes. I expected more of a citrus taste as Peterson’s Edible Plant Guide suggested the juice could be added to lemonade. Without sugar it would have been too tart and bland at the same time. At the very least Mayapple fruits are a survival food packed with vitamin C.

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Asiatic Dayflower Blooms For One Day

The Asiatic Dayflower, Commelina communis, is a cute three petal flower with two upper blue petals and one lower white petal. The lower white petal is so thin or narrow that often it is not even noticeable. The two larger blue petals stand out like Mickey Mouse ears. Long stamens stand out and anthers are bright yellow. A sheath is underneath each flower as a sort of pocket.

Three-petal bloom of the Asiatic Dayflower.
Three-petal bloom of the Asiatic Dayflower.

In the photo above taken 6 June 2010, the thinner stem to the left of the larger stem on the right is that of the Asiatic Dayflower. Note the oval pointed leaves and the sheath that houses the flower until blooming time.

A related plant called Virginia Dayflower, Commelina virginica, has three blue petals and otherwise the flower appears the same as the Asiatic Dayflower. The Virginia Dayflower is native to Eastern North America, but it’s very rare compared to the alien Asiatic Dayflower.

Dayflowers are named appropriately as they bloom for only one day, so they’re no good for cut flower arrangements.

Leaves are linear-veined, pointed ovals that sheath the stem. These plants spread by laying down their stems and rooting at the leaf nodes. This reclining habit also helps to differentiate the Asiatic Dayflower from the native dayflowers, which grow in an erect posture.

Asiatic Dayflowers photographed here were growing along the upper west lane near blackberries in a partially shaded area with Spotted Touch-Me-Nots.

Much better pictures of the Asiatic Dayflower can be seen in an earlier post about it blooming in South-central PA.

Peterson’s Edible Plant Guide indicates the dayflowers are edible and may be enjoyed by adding young stems and leaves to salads or using them as cooked greens.

Elderflowers Bloom in June for August Elderberries

Elderflowers bloom at the end of spring and the beginning of summer and ripen into dark purple elderberries by the end of summer.

Tall elderberry shrub reaches for the sunlight.
Tall elderberry shrub reaches for the sunlight.

In the photo above taken 6 June 2010 there are over 3 dozen elderflower clusters. Additional flower clusters were observed blooming on the same plant on 22 June 2010. The flower clusters occur at tips of branches. When the elderberries ripen they get heavy enough to bend the branches down. Berries are ripe for picking when the clusters hang down and are very dark purple.

Elderberry shrubs, Sambucus canadensis, have large, opposite, pinnately compound leaves with leaflets opposite one another. Toothed leaflets are lance-shaped and occur in pairs except for the terminal leaflet.

Elderflower cluster and compound leaves.
Elderflower cluster and compound leaves.

Note that the upper right leaf has nine toothed leaflets. The flower cluster rises up from the terminal end of the branch between two compound leaves.

Individual elderflowers are creamy white with five rounded petals and protruding stamens, which gives the flower cluster a fuzzy appearance from a distance.

Close-up view of an elderflower cluster.
Close-up view of an elderflower cluster.

All around the area we see elderflower bushes at the edge of fields, where the trees meet the open sunny fields. Many bushes are growing near water, in culverts, in drainage areas, and near streams. The tall elder shrub photographed above grows next to the edge of a lane where a natural spring trickles water down the side of the road, especially in Springtime and after heavy rains.

A common elderberry bush at the edge of a farmer's field.
A common elderberry bush at the edge of a farmer's field. Photo taken 10 June 2010.

When the elderberry bushes are in bloom is the best time to find these shrubs if you’re going to collect the elderberries. The berries won’t ripen until late summer. By then we’ll be ready to make elderberry jelly!

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