What You Can See on Feb. 16
Submitted by Ted Williams on Thu, 02/16/2006 - 08:19.
From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Winter’s Candy Sapsicles—those shards of frozen sap that hang from broken branches of hardwoods—seem made for consumption by kids and adults with kids’ hearts. If you close your eyes and concentrate, you can taste the coming spring. Sapsicles are sweeter than liquid sap because the sugar has been concentrated by evaporation. Look for them on warm, late-winter days after night temperatures have dipped below freezing. According to some connoisseurs, black-birch sapsicles have a faint wintergreen flavor; butternut sapsicles are vaguely reminiscent of cider. While red maple and box elder sapsicles are superb, the best are produced by sugar maples, which grow from Canada to northern Georgia to eastern Kansas. Some of these trees are five feet in diameter and may still bear V-shaped scars made by the Indians who collected their sap to make sugar. Bright Strangler Now hardwoods across America brighten with bands of scarlet bittersweet berries strung like Christmas lights around their trunks and branches. Rarely does the dazzling display bring joy to those who value native ecosystems. The species of bittersweet you're most likely to encounter is an invader from Asia brought to North America as an ornamental in the mid-19th century. Today no habitat is safe from its deadly clutches. But in the eastern half of our country, save the extreme south, we also have a native bittersweet, much reduced. By all means decorate with bittersweet, but only the alien. If the berries occur just on the tips of the twigs, keep the clippers in your pocket. If they grow along the twigs in clusters, take as much as you want; while you're at it, you'll free up some native trees.