The season changes and the leaves of summer’s lovely shade begin to fall, prompting a collective groan as gardeners from the east coast to the west reach for the rake. Falling in red, yellow and brown, the leaves float down, crackling underfoot as you walk along. Yet you might count yourself lucky if leaves are all your trees drop.
Trees, as wonderful as they are, drop all manner of things. We regularly complain about trees dropping leaves and pine needles. All types of fruits & nuts in various stage of ripeness, including crab apples, acorns, buckeyes, Osage oranges, coconuts. Yet I’ve discovered as I travel around wandering among trees, some quite unusual stuff falls from the branches.
Walking through the Mildred Mathias Arboretum at UCLA, the sign under the Coulter Pines cautioned “Warning 15 lb. pine cones falling.” Walking in the woods I have worried about the danger of bears, but those Coulter Pine cones’ scales are as fierce as bear claws and equally deadly. Some Coulter Pine cones reportedly weigh 40 lbs! Primarily a tree of the coastal mountains of California, it may not be in your garden. But who thought walking in the woods could be such a dangerous hobby? I’m not quite certain what one can do if your next steps lands in time with a 15 lb. pinecone’s descent. Lumber jacks, now wearing hard hats for protection, didn’t call those cones “widow makers” without reason. Just picking one from the ground can draw blood as the tips on the cone are sharp and pointed, unlike the compact varieties most of us are accustomed to.
Then there is the fruit of the Cannonball tree (Couroupita guianensis) primarily found in South America. I found it in the Foster Botanical garden in Kauai, HI. Another warning sign “Watch out for falling cannonballs” is attached to the trunk. The balls form from large yellow, white and orange flowers that emerge directly from the trunk. The ball shaped seedpods can be as large as eight inches in diameter, and hang in groups around the trunk. Hard and woody, they fall to the ground without warning. Deadly stuff. Besides these weapon grade droppings there are other dangers waving overhead
In Salinas, CA in a Eucalyptus Grove a sign warns: “Tree Limbs may fall, Use area at your own risk!” In addition to the falling limbs, many of the trees drop their bark like a snake shedding its skin. The peeling bark of some Eucalyptus reveal layers of changing colors while creating a constant pile of droppings. Yet the Mindanao gum variety of Eucalyptus is so beautiful it seems worth the trouble of raking up.
Wide eyed, first time visitors (count me as one) to Hawaii often mistake the Hala Tree or Screwpine (Pandanus odoratissimus) as a pineapple plant. This monocot plant has a female flower which looks very much like a pineapple, though its fruit is quite bitter. When the Pandanus fruit ripens and falls, it breaks into small pieces. Dried, it serves as organic, sustainable, and disposable paint brushes.
My personal favorite, so far, of all the strange things I’ve seen trees drop, is the Blue Marble tree. I found the Elaeocarpus angustifolius in Hawaii in the Foster Arboretum. The fruit, which falls when ripe and is eaten by the Wompoo fruit dove, is a deep blue shooter-sized-marble ball. The tree’s older, small leaves fall in gold and red making a beautiful composition of debris under the tree. Still, it is blue goo on your shoe if you aren’t careful where you walk. When dried, the marbles have been used in jewelry as beads.
Trees drop an amazing amount of stuff and it is understandable we complain about the mess. It is so easy to forget the oxygen they make for us while we are huffing and puffing to clear the ground. Still, if raking up leaves is all you are facing as the seasons change, it seems a fairly manageable pile of troubles.
Published in Roots & Shoots, Maricopa County Master Gardener Newsletter, http://cals.arizona.edu/maricopa/garden/mgcentral/uploads/randsOct2013.pdf