Sunday, June 7, 2015

Learning From Detritus

I've written before about the usefulness of looking down to see what's up.  On Memorial Day I had a reminder. Glancing down as I wandered the cemetery after the church service, I spotted samaras (winged seeds) of silver maple.  

Their graceful, curving ribs  and rounded shape
makes these distinctive among maples.

At a glance, I knew--though I never saw them--there were silver maples near at hand, since the samaras are too heavy to fly far.

In the same way, the rubbish at your feet or drifted in the gutter right now is probably made up mostly of shed flowers, seeds, and the like that hint at what is around you and what's been happening lately.  Our sidewalks here are littered with the long, delicate male catkins of oaks, the more robust and more recent male catkins of hickory, frass from millions of caterpillars, all dusted with the bright-yellow pine pollen that also generously dusts car windshields.  

 Male red maple flowers on 
the sidewalk on April 18th.

Norway maple flowers on May 8th;
The tan of oak pollen floating on a stream the same day.

Oak catkins on May 13th.

Fallen samaras of red maple on May 21th; premature sugar maple samara.

Male catkins of pignut hickory,
and shagbark hickory May 30th.

Male cones of white pine just about to shed pollen.  (Yup.  That's pine sperm* 
decorating your car.  In public.  In broad daylight.  Embarrassing.)

In a few days the male cones of white pine will fall, adding greatly to the detritus underfoot--and adding another line to the book of nature in this place.

*Okay, not exactly.  A pine pollen grain is actually made of several cells, only one or two of which are sperm.  So the pollen is a sperm delivery vehicle.  But isn't that splitting hairs?

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