bittersweet revelations

Bittersweet is an adjective, meaning “both pleasant and painful or regretful“.

Bittersweet is also the name of a woody vine that is recognizable for its brightly colored berries. In the summer, they ripen to bright yellow. In the fall, however, the yellow berry husks open up to reveal a bright red berry.


These cheerful red and yellow berries really catch the eye in the largely bleak gray post-foliage late fall landscape. These are some bittersweet berries I’ve passed on my morning walks.


While there is a species of bittersweet that is native to North America (where I live), the variety I tend to see originates in Asia. It is not only non-native, but is considered to be highly invasive. And sadly, as was revealed when the foliage fell, the vines of this plant can strangle trees.


Seeing the way the vines appear to dig deeply into the tree bark, it looks as if this slow strangulation has been going on for quite some time. Many seasons, and perhaps even many years.

Version 2

So while I can appreciate the beautiful looks of the berries, I can’t help but feel rather sad about the fate of the trees these vines choose as hosts.


Bittersweet, indeed.

a little past its prime

Current mood: shrivelled and slightly prickly.


The photo above is one I took a couple of days ago of a rosehip in a bush that I pass on my daily walks with my dog. I still found the little fruit photogenic, even though it clearly had left behind the rosy days of its youth. (For comparison, this is a photo of a rosehip from the same bush taken in August. See how plump and chipper it looks? It was probably just as prickly back then, but the thorns were masked by the lush green leaves of youth.)


I’m feeling rather shrivelled myself after a very long day. (Including 3-hour town meeting that only wrapped after 10 p.m. It was long, but I’m still thankful to have a functioning democracy.) I’m also feeling rather prickly for a variety of reasons that I don’t need to get into.

lily pods


These seed pods caught my eye on my walk this morning. I believe that they are lily seed pods. I find it rather striking how lacy the pod casings are. They look so delicate and fragile. It’s hard to imagine both that these pods would have been fresh and green only a few weeks ago, and that these filigreed pods and their rather brittle-looking stems were strong enough to have weathered a fairly severe wind storm only a week ago.




Here is a collection of misplaced leaves and flowers that caught my eye over recent years.

A leaf caught in a flower and a ray of sunshine.

A magnolia petal pining for the pines.

An oak leaf hanging out with the big guys and trying to blend in.

This little periwinkle bloom looks right at home in these fronds of hosta.

A cheery maple leaf resting on a subdued bed of ivy.

fading fall ferns

Here in the wooded parts of New England, there are plenty of ferns growing among the undergrowth. In the spring they poke up alien-looking shoots, which then unfurl and fan out into their more familiar fractal-like shapes. In summer, they typically appear in a range of greens, from bright chartreuse to deep forest green, and many a shade in between. In the fall, by mid-October, most of the green fades away, leaving a variety of other colors: reddish browns and soft yellows, along with the palest of minty greens.

This is a rather blurry photo I took last year, which doesn’t do justice to the colors, but gives a sense of the range.

This year, I was quite taken with some ferns that had faded almost completely to white, but without otherwise looking withered.

I loved the way the bright white shapes stood out against the dark fallen oak leaves.

This fern looks very feathery in white.

Zooming in, you can see how perfectly the fern kept its shape.

Find the fading fall ferns fascinating? Feel free to fill the fine form that follows.¹

¹ And by that I mean “please leave a comment,” except with a lot more alliteration.²
² And by that, I meant that I used a lot more alliteration above. But if you wish to leave a comment with a lot more alliteration, please proceed!

the other corpse plant

This afternoon, as I walked Phoebe down our road to a neighbor’s house for a playdate, a strange plant caught my eye on the roadside. Emerging from the brown fallen leaves were some bundles of waxy-looking stalks with what looked like bell-shaped flowers on top. They were almost totally white. I don’t just mean that the flowers were white. The whole plant was white: stems, leaves and flowers. All white.

I bent down to take a few photos with my trusty iPhone. After chatting with my neighbor about school supply lists and other exciting news, I completely forgot about the weird plant.

This evening, I remembered. A quick google search (for “white plant”) led me to the identification of the Monotropa uniflora, also known as Indian Pipe (they do look sort of pipe-like), ghost plant (they definitely look on the ghostly side) as well as corpse plant.

When I did a google search for “corpse plant,” however, I was greeted not by images of this guy, but by stories about the more famous, but similarly nicknamed, corpse flower. In case you missed hearing about it, the corpse flower is a giant flower that blooms only every few years, and not even on a regular schedule at that. Sometimes it will go a decade or more between blooms. But it is not its blooming timeline or even its massive size (8 feet tall!) for which the titan arum gets its fame, but from its smell: it is said to smell like a rotting corpse. The corpse flower was in the news quite a bit last month, as one living in the United States Botanic Garden Conservatory in Washington DC bloomed, bringing in over 130,000 visitors to sample the putrescent delights of this this olfactory oddity with their own nostrils. (Boston has one, too, apparently, but I have neither seen nor smelled it. I am tickled that it is named Morticia, though, and hope to visit her someday.)

Anyhow, this post is (mostly) not about that corpse flower, but the less famous, and much less smelly flowering corpse plant. While not nearly as dramatic, it is still a bit of a botanical oddity. This plant, you see, has no chlorophyll. As such, it is not able to produce its own food, but must live off of other plants. Specifically, it lives off certain trees and fungi. Unlike many fungi, which give something back to the host trees on which they live, the corpse plant only takes. It is parasitic. And I’m thinking kind of vampiric.

I hope to go back another day with my real camera to get some clearer shots, but I don’t know how long these things bloom. Apparently they will dry out and turn black fairly soon. I find it remarkable that I had never seen them before, nor heard of them. From what I can tell, they are fairly rare. I suppose that it caught my eye due to my recently heightened roadside plant awareness–we are always keeping our eyes open to avoid stepping in a tangle of poison ivy (which is lush and green and sadly, not rare at all).