|The Color of the Season|
|Written by Jeff Shimonski -- BT Contributor|
Mushrooms are popping up, and so is a rainbow of Geiger
I really like this time of year. All the rain, heat, and humidity has brought out the best in plants. There are flowering trees and shrubs everywhere.
I’ve been taking my camera out early in the morning to photograph all the different species of fungi popping up all over. I’ve seen some great specimens of stinkhorns, that brilliantly colored red and round ball that stinks like the inside of an old garbage can and attracts lots of flies.
If they annoy you, look for the white, half-dollar-size, egg-like structures from which they emerge. Just pick them and toss in the garbage. Puffballs have been plentiful, too. These mushrooms are usually colored brown and in the shape of little round balls. When squeezed, they emit a small, dark cloud of spores that looks like smoke.
Recently I was exploring my backyard when I came across a bolete, a good-size mushroom with a thick cap. It was probably edible, but I never eat any mushrooms if I’m not certain of their identification.
The really neat thing about some of these mushrooms, including boletes, is that they have mutually beneficial relationships with tree roots. I found my bolete underneath a large, mature live oak in my backyard. This was a good sign in regards to the health of the tree.
The meadow mushrooms have been plentiful. I wrote about them a while back. They are very closely related to the portobello and just as edible and tasty. The only drawback is they cannot be commercially produced because they are only edible for a few days and do not store well. As a result, they have to be picked and eaten within a day or so.
While we’re in the mushroom department, I also have been finding very poisonous mushrooms in some very unlikely places. Even though quite beautiful, some of the amanitas are deadly poisonous, so, again, it is best not to pick anymushroom unless you really know what you’re doing.
Aside from the interesting and striking forms of local mushrooms, another source of great color now is all the flowering trees. One of my favorites is Cordia sebestenaor orange Geiger. The wrinkly, orange flowers can be quite eye-catching. The photo that accompanies this article was taken at Jungle Island, where we have grown many Geigers from seed.
Occasionally the orange Geiger is defoliated by a fingernail-size beetle called the Geiger beetle, which only seems to eat the foliage on this particular species of tree. Some years, when the beetle population is high, the trees never seem to get any decent foliage on them at all.
Since these trees are not too tall, I found a great nonchemical way to control the beetles. The adult beetle lays her eggs on the newest foliage, usually putting all eggs on a single leaf. When the eggs hatch, the larvae begin to eat that leaf immediately, creating little holes in it.
When looking up into the canopy of the tree, these holes are easily detected, with the light passing through a little group of holes surrounded by the dark green foliage of the surrounding leaf tissue.
I performed a study a few years ago in which I inspected a tree once a week, looking for the newest foliage. Upon seeing leaves with the telltale holes in them, I would handpick those leaves. This solved the problem by removing the tiny beetle larvae before they could spread throughout the canopy of the tree.
We have been using this kind of cultural control at the park and it has worked very well for us. If you can’t reach the leaves by hand, use a pole clipper. No excuse for chemical use here.
The genus Cordiahas within it about 300 species of trees and shrubs found worldwide in warmer climes. At the park we also grow another very attractive member of this genus, the yellow Geiger, or Cordia lutea. It grows as a sprawling, small tree. The wood is fairly soft, so once the tree reaches 10 or 12 feet in height, it should be pruned to avoid being broken up by high winds.
Over time and with regular pruning, this tree will develop a stout trunk. This is a great plant for a sunny, wind-protected area in the landscape.
There is also the tree that grows natively in the Caribbean, the one Hispanics call “bocote.” Its scientific name is Cordia alliodoraand it is harvested for its workable wood.
Sometimes we’ll even see a white-flowered, small tree in our local landscapes, the white Geiger, or Cordia boissieri, which is native to North America. It is common in Texas and not so common here, but attractive specimens really stand out when in bloom.
Volume 12, Issue 8. October 2014
The Smithsonian honors a local documentary photographer
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