The American bittersweet is a native vine found throughout most of the state on woodland margins and in brushy thickets. Formerly common, it has now become scarce in regions where motorists stop to harvest the branches in the fall.
Bittersweet has neither tendrils nor aerial roots, but climbs by twining its entire stem around the trunk of a tree or fence post. The fruit is an orange capsule that opens to display a cluster of bright red-orange seeds, each with a fleshy covering. These seeds hang on through winter or until birds such as wild turkeys, robins or bluebirds eat them.
A popular planting on garden fences, American bittersweet is often used in holiday decorations, but in order to produce the colorful fruits, both male and female forms must be planted.
October is the time of the illuminated woods. Our color splashed neighborhoods and natural areas are the grand finale of the growing season. Fall coloring in deciduous trees, shrubs and vines is the result of chemical processes in leaves as winter approaches. Most of the woody plants begin to turn before the first frost, and many of them reach their peak of autumn splendor and drop their leaves before any trace of frost.
At this time sugar maples are showing reds and burnt-oranges, eastern cottonwood trees display golden-yellow, and wild grape leaves glow a sunny-yellow.
What’s happening outdoors now?
Soaking rains at the end of September and beginning of October have made our lawns green, put some water into dry wetlands, and helped a bit to replenish soil moisture. We need more fall rains. Farmers have recently combined many soybean fields. Minnesota is the nation’s third largest soybean producer. In orchards, the picking of Haralson and Regent apples started a week ago, and the harvest of Honeycrisp is ending. Dahlias, mums, some garden roses, plus annuals such as zinnias, snapdragons and marigolds are blooming and showy. Brussels sprouts, parsnips, leeks, carrots and leaf lettuce keep on growing.
With dropping water temperatures, more painted turtles are up sunning on logs. Thousands of American coots, in big rafts, are seen on Lake Waconia and other southern Minnesota lakes.
A few of the other migrating birds moving through now include both golden-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets, northern flickers, blue jays, yellow-rumped warblers and dark-eyed juncos. Before sunset, red-winged blackbirds gather in wetlands for the night. Their trilling songs recall a sound of spring.
On Oct. 17 a year ago
Drought conditions persisted. For October, only .03 inch rain fell up to this date in the Waconia area. We had overcast skies, a high temperature of 62 degrees and low in the upper 40s.
Smoky-gold needles were seen on tamaracks, and colonies of quaking aspens had golden-yellow leaves. Flocks of robins fed on crabapples and wild grapes.