I had already made my order for more shortleaf pines from the Missouri Department of Conservation, in my ongoing and ever-hopeful effort to get more of these beauties growing in my Ozark forest, when I wondered if there might be more I’d like to try planting this coming spring.
Not far from my woods, beside the highway we take when we drive back to faraway suburbia, I see a small tree on the edge of a farm field this time of year that is laden with bright red fruits. It’s eye catching, and I wonder what it is as I hurtle past at highway speeds, just as I wonder why I don’t have a splash of color like that in my forest. The plentiful fruits on this tree linger through the winter, and I imagine they feed the critters during the last lean months before spring abundance. But the drive home is still long from this point, and by the time I get home, get unpacked, get showered, and get my normal weekend routines accomplished, I’ve usually forgotten all about this tree, whatever it is.
This year, however, I seemed to have seen this fruiting species in a lot more places than I have before. Mostly these have been along the side of the road, in that no-man’s-land between highway maintenance and farm field. A small, leafless tree packed with red fruit. Perhaps I’m just paying more attention. Or perhaps the heat and drought of the summer were favorable to it (though I can’t imagine that to be right). In any case, the more abundant reminder of it compelled me to attempt to discover what it is (and if I can get any for myself).
Well, I still don’t know what this alluring tree is I’m seeing beside the road on my Roundrock trips, but I have certainly found something comparable for my forest. (And likely, it is the same plant.)
There is a native holly plant in Missouri that goes by the name of Ilex decidua. Commonly it’s called Possum Haw, though it is not a hawthorn. (I love hawthorn trees — they bear the Missouri state flower — but I don’t think I would have much success growing them in my cedar-filled forest since they are susceptible to cedar apple rust.) The growth pattern and fruiting rate/timing of this holly, though, match the plant I’ve been seeing, and since it is native, I suspect that it is what I’m seeing. In any case, even if Possum Haw is not the same plant, it’s certainly one I’d like to have growing in my woods.
I was pleased to find that the state nursery is selling these, so I put in an order for twenty of them the other day. They’re scheduled to be delivered in April, which will give me plenty of time to consider where I can put them in my forest for maximum critter and eye-catching effect.