Monday, June 14, 2010
A Bitter Taste and Quest
While hiking this morning in Zion National Park, I rounded a bend and surprised four young mule deer. At least one was a buck, its new growth antlers just visible above the long perked ears.
They were feeding on grass, then moved farther away from me to browse on the leaves of a small tree. I tasted a leaf. It was bitter. Of course, after a breakfast of french toast and syrup this isn't unusual. It is said that things that taste bitter to us are more likely to be poisonous. If it has a milky sap, we are instructed to avoid that.
I took a good closeup of the leaves to make research and identification easier. This link http://plants.usda.gov/gallery.html one would think , would generate the immediate answer. Humm, not so.
It is also helpful to notice the type of bark it has, and whether any seeds or buds are forming. So, I went back later in the day and noticed trees identical to one another, except some had winged seeds in clusters hanging from it. A male and female tree is the answer to that. Flowers have male and female stamen and pistils, so this is not so hard.
So, armed with that observation, I visited the Arbor Day site: http://arborday.org/trees/wtit .
Many other sites were visited in an attempt to find a definite answer.
And finally, http://vagabonders-supreme.net/Trees.htm had just what I was looking for.
Sometimes its not all that easy identifying a plant. A field guide helps, but that's kind of heavy to carry around all the time. After some searching, with just the leaf photo and taste test I decided this was a Texas Mulberry, edible and eventually it should have berries. This tree is found in the southern United States, not just in Texas.
But then I changed my mind.
After touching the bark, seeing the winged seeds, and general growth pattern, and viewing the Trees Along My Journey photo essay, I concluded it is the Box Elder, member of the Maple Family. No wonder it looked so familiar. This tree grows wild in every state, and has the seeds common to the maple family.