As the woods are shutting down this fall, there is fruit to be had. Fruit for many birds and small mammals. Fruit for the adventuresome human as well.
These are the berries (also known as drupes) of Spicebush, Lindera benzoin. Berries that turn a brilliant scarlet in September, when the leaves are still a lovely contrast. A contrast, of emerald green. The leaves and twigs, if rubbed in your hands, will give off a pleasant, spicy fragrance. For those adventuresome humans I mentioned, the leaves and twigs can be used to make a tea. The berries can be dried and crushed to be used as a spice. While out today, my curiosity got the best of me. This afternoon I tasted some of the berries. I have to report that I was not impressed. Not unpleasant, but nothing to write home about either.
By late October, the leaves that once were emerald, are now a shining yellow, glowing in the forest. Calling attention to the shrub, wherever it grows. It grows in moist, shady locations, but if it is given just a tiny bit of sun, more berries will be produced.
As the shining yellow leaves drop to the forest floor, it’s easier to see the bark of the small trunks of the shrub. Small trunks that are speckled, as if a pretzel. A pretzel that is the wrong color. A soft grayish brown pretzel.
What is left behind, after the leaves have fallen, is a vision of what is to come. Buds that will wait out the winter.
Buds that will be some of the first awakenings of spring. Buds that paint the woods, in early April, a soft butter yellow. A soft wash that stirs my curiosity.
Buds that become blossoms. Blossoms that open before there are any thoughts of leaves. Blossoms of butter yellow in the black, gray and brown woods. No hint of any green.
Blossoms that resemble Sassafras blooms, but arrive a couple weeks earlier. Blossoms that will become berries on the female shrubs. The Spicebush is a shrub that is either male or female (the term for this is dioecious). The berries are only produced on the female shrubs. Berries that will again appear on the shrubs, as summer turns to fall. As the woods are shutting down.