Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Yesterday, it snowed off and on all day. Sometimes the flakes were huge, like flat, white Tiddly Winks floating down from the heavens. I ran out and took photos but mainly I ran around like a crazy woman laughing into the skies and catching the flakes on my tongue like I did as a child. We don't see snow often, and this was a safe snow without ice. Safe and soft and swift and it melted as soon as the flurry ended. It was perfect.

In these conditions of gray skies and white, soft fog this year's crop of possumhaw berries beam like headlights in the gloom. Our weather here hasn't been kind to these deciduous hollies the past few years, but for some reason the berries are the largest I've ever witnessed. They're huge, and there are so many clusters that the limbs are bowing down to the ground, and the trunks tremble with the weight of them.

The gold-berried possumhaw is striking this year but I've yet to take a photo to do it justice. The one above is unfortunately lit by the flash, which I forgot to turn off, but is pretty nonetheless.
The winterberry is the thickest of all. It will remain smaller than the others, and stay in a shrub shape. It is gorgeous with the Zebra grass backdrop. The larger ilex decidua was hard hit by an early frost a year ago and very nearly died. Most of its upper limbs are still without leaves and berries but what remains is still outstanding.

Traveling to Kansas City for Thanksgiving my job was to sit with Baylee in the backseat and keep her quiet and calm. Easier said than done. The best part of the job was looking out the window and observing the beautiful landscapes that flew by at 70mph. Somewhere in the northern part of Tennessee I saw a flash of brilliant red in the fence row. The native possumhaw! I internalized this, the magic of seeing the blood red berries flashing brightly in the low, vivid light of late autumn. Gazing without out really seeing, my eyes witnessed another flash of red, waking me from the daydream. Another possumhaw, the wild native standing out in a grove of sumac. Thus began the counting.
Through Tennessee then Kentucky I kept a running count in my head. They were sparse at first, the native possumhaws. One here, another there. I counted 9 when suddenly we came across a grove of them. Easily 10-12 possumhaws clustered in a group close to a fence row. I was astounded. Number 10 became #1 Possumhaw Grove. By St. Louis I'd seen 5-7 possumhaw groves and basically gave up the counting game. I also began seeing another red-berried shrub but the green leaves remained and the berries were not tightly bundled as with the possumhaws. These were everywhere, prominent and proud, hosting hoards of hungry birds. My host told me these were known as Inkberries. Way cool.

Having a passion for possumhaws may be sort of weird, but they fascinate me endlessly. Maybe it's just the name - possumhaw. Wikipedia reports that the berries were used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes, and the origin of the name "fever bush." Does anyone know why "possumhaw," the meaning of the word?


wcgillian said...

Nice set of photos. Just a touch of snow would be nice for a change. It hit 61 below today wind chill. It was painful!

Michaela said...

The top one if my favourite!!! It's one of those shots that are so good my mouth starts to water. Wow.

P.S. My "random things" post is up.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I don't know anything about the berries except they are beautiful as pictured on your blog.

Anonymous said...

living so far north I've never even heard of this delightful fever bush. I loved the imagery in describing the snow flakes as Tiddly Winks -- perfect! and fresh too.


The Giraffe Head Tree said...

Randy - Ouch! 60 Below? Good heavens! Stay warm up thar.

Michaela - Hiya honey. Thanks for the nice compliment! I've checked out your list and made a comment!

Lisa - These berries are the size of marbles, no kidding. Amazing.

Diane - Thanks for the nice thoughts, dear. You and I are probably the only ones here who know what Tiddly Winks are - LOL!


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