Sunday, January 20, 2008

Seeing Red

The year begins and ends in red. Some new. Some old. Some constant. The constant is the cardinal that is always here. The robin that spends the winter in flocks escaping snowy fields, arrives with the new year. The bright colors of these birds depend on their diet, which at this time of year is largely red berries.



The landscape may be dull but the hollies are still bright with green leaves and red berries. The bloom was last spring, but the color of the fruit continues into winter. Florida has eleven native hollies. Today we saw three different ones. The most familiar is the yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria. This one was made famous by the black drink, brewed ceremonially by natives. The small leaves are scalloped on the edges.


The myrtle-leaved holly, Ilex myrtifolia, has slightly larger leaves of similar shape, but without the scalloped edges and with a more distinct point on the ends.


The dahoon holly, Ilex cassine, is a small evergreen tree, commonly used in landscaping. Of these three, its leaves are the largest. Some forms of this tree have yellow berries.


This time of year, the pine trees are showing off their male cones that contain the pollen. The slightest breeze will fill the air with the yellowish-green pollen dust, coating everything and, hopefully, fertilizing the female cone that takes over a year to develop.


100_1515 Florida also has four native maples. The Florida maple, Acer floridanum, and the red maple, Acer rubrum, are common here. The flowers show first on the bare branches. as seen here. Later in the spring, the winged seeds will develop and when mature will spiral down to the ground.


To see this last bit of red, you have to get down on your hands and knees. It is part of reindeer moss which is not a true moss, but a lichen. It grows here in sandy places where scrub oaks are found. But it also grows on the tundra and is a food for reindeer, hence the name. Every December, we collect some for S's kindergartners to put out on Christmas Eve.


When we see red, it is the continuum of what began last spring and progressed through the seasons of summer, fall and winter, and now spring again. Nature continues in its circle. It is we who apply the label of a "new" year.

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