Wednesday, October 12, 2011

harvest moon rising

harvest moon rising
through long spiral seedpods of
a honey locust

Full moon last night, looking huge among the branches of a honey locust, then appearing to shrink as it rose above the tangle of pods. The "honey" part of the tree's common name comes from the sweet pulp of the unripe pods, which Native Americans used for food. The pulp contains large seeds in slots, like beans in a bean pod. As the locust pods ripen, the beans turn shiny dark brown and the surrounding skin turns from bright green to dark maroon. Deer and other herbivores such as  horses and cattle love to eat the succulent pulp. The hard seed coat breaks down during digestion, so when the seeds are secreted they germinate more easily. 
          The trunk and limbs of the honey locust are covered with dense clusters of long thorns, which start out soft and green, then turn hard and red, and finally brittle and gray. The hard thorns have been used as nails and the rot-resistant wood as posts and rails. It is thought that the tree evolved these thorns as a defense against browsing Pleistocene megafauna. Imagine chomping into those thorns! About the only thing that threatens these hardy trees is the mimosa webworm. Colonies of these caterpillars form large web "tents" and proceed to defoliate the tree. This year we had to clear an area with a lot of honey locusts in order to erect a wind generator and solar panels. Chopping down a honey locust doesn't kill it, as it just send up new shoots from the stump or roots. The trunk must be double ringed and left until the tree dies before it can be felled. Then the wicked thorns have to be carefully clipped off and burned before we can use the tree for firewood. 

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