A Little More About Beech-Maple Forest in Late Summer

Fallen beechnuts. Photographed 20 August 2012 in Pavilion Township by Richard Brewer

In my last post I talked about how bland and uneventful the mesic forest is in late summer and early fall.  I was giving my impression from a good many years of experience with such forests.  But I spent a few hours on three days recently, actually looking at what was happening.  Partly I was hoping to see Triphora trianthophora and partly I wanted to check my memory.

I didn’t find three birds orchid, and not a lot was happening.  Not a lot, but still more than I had remembered.

For one thing, I had forgotten how important the shedding of fruit is at this time of year.  On 13 August, wild black cherry fruits were numerous on the ground, and there were more of them on visits in early and mid September. I have a feeling that birds that want black cherries eat the ripe–or green–fruit on the tree, but perhaps some mammals wanting the dried flesh or the stone wait for the cherries to drop.  That 60-year-old (but still unsurpassed) manual, American Wildlife and Plants, by Alexander C. Martin and two co-authors, suggests that cherries are eaten by red foxes and gray squirrels, but doesn’t comment on when they gather them.

By 20 September, there were lots of  samaras, the small key-like fruits of sugar maple on the ground.  Sugar maples are always the most common saplings in the mesic woods in Michigan.  There may be a rare year when the seed crop is low, but I think seed supply is rarely a limiting stage in the maple’s life cycle.

It’s not noticeable when you’re walking on the soft earth of the forest, but where the maple fruits have fallen on a hard surface, like a concrete walk, they snap when you step on them, like popping bubble-wrap.  Great fun, almost like popping ripe touch-me-nots.

On the 20th of September also, there were many light tan, prickly beechnuts on the ground, and more were coming down.  Some had one or two fruits inside and some were empty, but I had no way of knowing whether the two, sometimes three, fruits had been plucked out on the ground or in the tree or whether all had aborted.

There’s no question about what animals eat beech fruits.  The answer is everything.  Well, not warblers, but wood ducks, grouse, grackles, jays, woodpeckers, bear, squirrels, fox, chipmunk, deer.

I thought there were especially large crops this year from all these trees–cherry, maple, beech.  Whether some of this could be related to the unusual warmth of the summer is impossible to say.  Tree crops do fluctuate, with one very good year rarely being followed by another.

There were other good things to be seen on my visits to the woods. Lots of herbaceous plants and shrubs were bearing ripe fruit–American poke, or pokeweed, had ripe fleshy fruits.  Such things as Polygonum virginianum and Geum canadense had smallish, dry fruit.  The fruits of red-berried elder were long gone, eaten by birds, but there on the stems, two at a node, were large flower buds ready for next spring.

As I’ve claimed before, not much was in bloom, although Geum canadense had a few flowers with two or three white rounded petals still clinging.

Aster lateriflorus. Photographed 20 September 2012 in Pavilion Township MI by Richard Brewer.

But one species was definitely blooming and near its peak.  It wasn’t  three birds, which I didn’t find.  It was a little white aster, sometimes called calico aster.  The scientific name situation in not very satisfactory, but for our purposes we can refer to it as Aster lateriflorus.

It’s not showy, but it was blooming on August 13 and sill blooming on September 20, with no end to its season in sight.

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