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Tuesday, Mar. 11, 2014
It that a red cedar? No, sorry, it's a juniperPosted Wednesday, November 9, 2011, at 4:26 PM
Photo by Steven Foster For photo prints, go to www.stevenfoster.com/prints.html
Those prone to chewing on pencils know red cedar wood's flavor. Over the years more red cedars have been razed for making pencils than any other use.
It is a common tree invading neglected farm pastures and forming large colonies. Here, it springs up on all types of soil, even the thin soil of abandoned pastures, enduring stone-laden hillsides that most plants shun.
On maturing trees, the opposite, triangular, sharply pointed tiny 1/16-inch long leaves are scale-like, each leaf overlapping another leaf, entirely covering the outer branchlets. On young trees, one to three years old, the leaves are stiff, sharp-pointed needles about 3/4-inch long. This is the tree's God-given evolutionary adaptation to protect its young against nibbling rabbits, mice, or the cow's futile attempt at protecting her grazing land from red cedar's invasion.
Male and female flowers are on separate trees. Many of you pay acute attention to the red cedar early in spring when the male flowers invade our atmosphere with a thick unseen fog of tiny cedar pollen particles.
Early settlers in Virginia and the Carolinas distilled brandy from the berries as a digestive cordial. Other folk uses include use of the berries as a condiment for flavoring meat, and in treating various illnesses including coughs, bronchitis, and rheumatism. And no, the berries are not used for making gin -- the flavoring of gin comes from another widespread juniper, Juniperus communis, which does grow in the Ozarks. However, bootleggers should take note of red cedar berries' flavoring potential.
Red cedars are also noticed in spring when susceptible to a fungal disease known as Gymnosprangium juniperus-virginianae. On a rainy day in late spring, otherwise unnoticed galls transform to a stringy gelatinous, transparent orange mass hanging from red cedars' outer branches. They are called "cedar apples." It is the slimy sort of thing that could inspire a horror movie producer to create a script about the day the cedar apples took control of a city.
Nature flexes her evolutionary muscles on behalf of a city's inhabitants. A mutated gooey cedar apple, exposed to radiation from fictional cedar spring, swells to an enormous size, and then spreads through the city selectively seeking only elected officials to encase in gelatinous ooze. On second thought, forget Hollywood. I believe I have enough background material to write that script myself.
Steven Foster is a world renowned botanical photographer. He has published many books, including 2 for National Geographic
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