Northland Nature: Rose hips add to fall scene

Nov. 17—By this time in November, the surrounding flora may give the appearance of living up to the saying of "gray November." There is still plenty of green in the nearby forests, but except for the large conifers, the greens are plants on the forest floor. The vibrant colors of early autumn are now just a memory.

It is interesting to note that the last of the red leaves lingered into early this month with some small bushes: raspberry, blackberry, blueberry and bunchberry. Yellows of tamarack put on a great show from the wetlands, but dropped their colorful needles as we entered November. And now, yes, the woods do take on a bland and gray appearance, but as often happens with nature, a closer look reveals more.

Looking at many trees, we can see that there are plenty of reds, but not in the leaves. Several trees in the Northland had their blossoms of summer get pollinated by insects and then developed to the products of the season, what we call fruits and berries. These structures hold the valuable seeds of the plants.

Though the colors of these fruits will vary, I find many kinds that are bright red. The plan is that such colored fruits and berries will get noticed by fruit-eating animals: large mammals (bears), small mammals (squirrels) and birds. When consumed, the seeds inside will also get transferred to a new site to grow. This is a form of seed dispersal where the plants take advantage of the mobility of animals to move their products.

It began with the red-berry elders of summer. (All of these berries quickly were gone by midsummer.) The spring blossoms of hawthorn, highbush cranberry and mountain ash gave way to various fruits and berries that hung individually, as in hawthorns (looking like tiny apples), to groups as seen with highbush cranberries (a Viburnum, only looking like the cranberries of the swamps) and mountain ash (both the native and non-native ones hold clusters of red berries now).

Crab apples and winterberry holly also hold groups of fruits on short stems; tight onto the plant. While I have seen an abundance of crab apples this season (likely to be observed for much of the winter). The winterberry holly of the swamps appears to be less this year. Another, the wild rose, is now also with many red berries.

During my daily walks along the roads last summer, I noted many kinds of wildflowers. Among the milkweeds, fireweeds and primroses, were the large five fragrant pink petals of wild rose, a bush about 3 feet tall. These delightful flowers, about 2 inches across, were abundant during the peak of their flowering time, late June to early July.

We are not the only ones to notice their blooming and they get pollinated readily by bees, wasps, flies and other insects. As the summer wanes, the floras are replaced by ripening ball-shaped fruits, going from green to red, with many seeds inside. These berries are regularly known as rose hips.

The red berries in early autumn are on the stems with compound leaves, also of red. (Through the seasons, these wild roses show pink blossoms, red leaves and now red berries.) They get the attention of various seed-eaters, including some humans who collect them to make a vitamin-rich tea.

Clusters of these berries with sepals on the ends will stay with the plants all fall and into the winter until they get discovered and consumed. But for now, they are interesting to see.