Hunting Red in October

Every fall, two things happen that mark the shift from summer into the fall. The first is when someone calls to ask when to stop feeding the hummingbirds. The answer is whenever the hummingbirds stop eating the sugar water. They know when they need to fly south, and no amount of enticement on our part will convince them to stick around for winter.

The second is when someone brings me a beautiful red leaf to identify.

This is poison ivy. Stunning, and still full of oil. Off of its vine, there are no "leaves of three." The characteristic "mitten tips" curl under almost immeidately making it a tough one to identify.
This is poison ivy. Stunning, and still full of toxic oil. Off of its vine, there are no “leaves of three.” The characteristic “mitten tips” curl under almost immediately making it a tough one to identify.

There is, of course, plenty of non-hazardous beauty out there.

Oak leaves after a rainstorm.
White oak leaves after a rainstorm.
Sugar maple leaves. Both the oaks and the maples produce golden leaves as well this time of year.
Sumac leaves only turn red before falling off.
Sumac leaves, on the other hand, only turn red before falling off.
The red I was most excited about discovering on my last walk was a lovely patch of rose hips. Not only are the hips edible, I was able to cut them in half and save the seeds for future plantings, while drying the rose hips for turning into tea.

A fall field day

IMG_20150925_184848508_HDRThe autumn skies have been beckoning, so we headed out to investigate a nearby park on the Wapsipinicon River. A helpful fisherman cautioned us when we arrived that the trails weren’t well maintained, which we quickly learned was a euphemism for “non existent” but that didn’t slow us down. Figuratively. Literally, beating your way through tangled masses of vegetation, that even deer were avoiding, over uneven ground…definetely made it an adventure. We weren’t worried, because we had both the river to follow “back” and in this particular part of eastern Iowa, there is typically a road every square mile.

We didn’t know it at the time, but it quickly turned in to a mushroom treasure hunt.



We were also treated to brilliant red of the false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum). The real Solomon’s (Polygonatum biflorum) seal has blue berries, and instead of clustering at the top like this, they appear intermittently along the stem.

IMG_20151002_141638884When we were ready to head home, we pulled out the smart phone with map ap, which let us know exactly where we were. It helped us avoid detouring the long way around an oxbow and a wetland. A magical afternoon in the woods.