Ok, I wrote that title in a moment of irrational exuberance. It wasn’t raining at the time, in fact it was sunny outside. What a refreshing change. Well, never fear, it’s raining again now. Raining hard and all day. Last month was the rainiest on record in Seattle. We normally get about three and a half inches of rain in October, but this year we got slightly over ten inches. Though the rain and wind have knocked down many of the leaves, the fall colors were, and those that are left still are, brilliant this year (not by New England standards but exceptional for Seattle).
Slowly turning red…and staying red for a long time. Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is a fine fall shrub, except that it has a tendency to send up root suckers everywhere.
A couple of weeks later it’s all red. This one is north of Cascara Circle. I noticed flower clusters for the first time and I immediately thought of sumac lemonade. Maybe this would be the year.
Unfortunately, this appears to be an unpollinated female flower cluster. It’s quite dry. There are no juicy, sour drupes from which to make ‘lemonade’, though it fooled me from a distance. Time to look for a male plant. Staghorn sumac is dioecious. There are male plants and female plants, so without a nearby male plant’s pollen, the flowers on this plant will remain unpollinated.
The woods north of Cascara Circle are worth a visit any time but fall is best…
… because it’s beautiful, peaceful, colorful and off the beaten track there. It probably needs a bench, maybe a round bench, encircling the birch tree. Pictured is part of the woods and pathway north of Cascara Circle. That is an incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) in the center background, with a spice bush (Lindera benzoin) fading to yellow on the left, and a Canadian serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) turning from green to yellow to red on the right. The red in the far background is a sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum).
Sourwood is a small tree from eastern North America and its young leaves are edible. Both leaves and bark have been used medicinally. Something traumatic happened to this tree, maybe a heavy snow early in the season or a branch falling from the nearby Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica); I really can’t remember. But it hasn’t grown straight since.
The nearby California wild grape plant (Vitis californica) finally produced some fruit, high off the ground where it had climbed up nearby shrubs and trees to get more sun. That’s what wild grapes do in their native habitat and it’s a good strategy, so I plan to let them go feral. There were two respectable bunches of small grapes. Someone absentmindedly gobbled them up before realizing it would be nice to save the seeds for the Index Seminum program. Next year.
Once they were in my hand there was no hope. I ate them all.
Not surprisingly, the heavy rains of October brought a flush of mushrooms around campus. Some white king boletes (Boletus barrowsii) popped up, along with many other edible, not-so-edible and some mind-altering specimens. A few feet from the grapes, near the white birch tree (Betula papyrifera), some birch boletes (Leccinum scabrum) appeared. They are edible, though the smaller, firmer ones are best.
A slightly tattered birch bolete. They turn grayish black when you cook them, but many people around the world enjoy eating them and other species of Leccinum. A few species can cause gastric disturbance in some people. Always be one hundred percent sure of the mushroom species you’re about to consume, and eat just a little the first time (after thorough cooking) to see how your body reacts. Better safe than sorry.
I’d rather eat these. I took a day off and drove out to the mountains to look for matsutakes (Tricholoma magnivelare) and I’m including them in this blog post because they are medicinal (though this study was done on the similar Eurasian species Tricholoma matsutake). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3732428/
Sometimes you find a bunch of them together. Oh, happy days.
Some of the haul.
Matsutakes can be hard to find before they break through the forest duff. These pictured below were just bumps in the soil until I moved the duff aside.
It’s often true that where there is a matsutake in plain sight, there are others hidden nearby. Mushroom picking in the mountains is time well spent. If the University of Washington ever decides to establish a rustic research station/ natural history bed and breakfast in the nearby mountains and they need an able caretaker, let it be known that I’m volunteering for that position.
But back to the Medicinal Herb Garden foods. The leccino olive (Olea europaea) produced just enough fruit…for a tapas plate. But it’s better than nothing.
They’re brining in a jar in my kitchen at this moment.
The medlars (Mespilus germanica) are always reliable producers. Having tasted bland, pasty medlars from another tree, I’ve come to appreciate what a good (though unknown) cultivar we have. The medlar tree is ten feet from the grapes.
This year, people are harvesting fruit husks (pericarps) from the Szechuan pepper trees in the Medicinal Herb Garden borders. Finally. Every autumn, these trees/shrubs produce thousands of little “peppercorns”. As the ripe, brown husks split open, the shiny black seeds often fall out on their own, but those that don’t can easily be cleaned off the husks. They won’t do any harm but are gritty and add no flavor.
You can see ripe brown husks and nearly-ripe red husks as well as a few seeds in this picture. The fruit start out green in the summer.
This pomegranate shrub (Punica granatum) produced no large fruit but many small fruit this year. It lives near the olives on the border of section A.
False Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) leaf colors fading away as they approach dormancy. The fruit have mostly dropped but they are a sweet trail nibble when they turn red and get soft. They grow around Cascara Circle and nearby woods.
Moving east in the garden to the built environment. Behold.
Garden shed is ship shape for winter. I needed to clean it up in order to operate the seed exchange out of there for the next two winters.
It took a year and a half of procrastinating to finally set aside an afternoon to clean and organize the place but I now breathe a sigh of relief every time I walk in.
Photos of the Life Sciences Building and Biology Greenhouse construction site become dated almost daily. Those guys work fast. But here’s a shot from over the fence a week ago.
It’s a long way down.
Experiencing winter in the garden is like stepping into another world. The space, the light and the plants all change. Wait, it’s not winter for another month and a half. For my purposes as a gardener, winter in Seattle begins in November.
Can you guess what this is?
In their winter dormancy, it’s often hard to recognize plants we know when we see them in summer. This is balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus).
And what is this wraith in section E? The last faded leaves outline the schisandra vine (Schisandra chinensis) which finally made its way up into the hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) canopy.
Note the change in leaf morphology from ovate at bottom to lanceolate at top. It’s a twiner, growing up wires suspended from a bamboo tripod.
Ji shi teng (Paederia foetida) in section B is a new addition to the garden. Hopefully it will survive the winter outside. From temperate to tropical east Asia, this plant has many, many names and uses in a variety of healing traditions. Here are a couple of links:
The Steller’s jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) are very vocal right now (even more than usual). I’m not sure why. This one perched for a while on Bill Talley’s bench. Bill was the campus landscape architect for many years and he really loved the Medicinal Herb Garden. Near the end of his life, at his request, the bench was installed in section C. It has seen a lot of use since. Good work, Bill.
first winter rain drops
soaking in and passing through
then falling again
See you in the garden.