Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Hmmm. Stinky?

Those of you who have been out for a walk to the deck on the West Lake lately have probably noticed a bit of an odd, sweatsock-like smell in the air. The culprit, believe it or not, is a ripening berry.

Low Bush-Cranberry (Viburnum edule), pictured here, and to a lesser extent its cousin High Bush-Cranberry (Viburnum opulus) (below) have a sneaky way of spreading their seeds. As the berries ripen they give off a scent resembling old meat. This attracts scavenging animals, which eat the smelly berries. Sounds weird so far, but it makes sense when you know that the seed inside each berry is tough enough to make it through an animal's digestive system without being destroyed. By the time the seed finally hits the ground it's likely been spread far from the parent plant, and as a bonus it's been planted in a bit of... fertilizer for good measure.

Bush-cranberries, whose berries are edible (if acidic) and make a pretty good preserve, can be identified by their three-lobed leaves (shallow lobes on Low Bush-Cranberry; deeper lobes on High Bush-Cranberry). Low Bush-Cranberry often grows in moist thickets and wetland margins. High Bush-Cranberry can be found bordering poplar stands and in river valleys.

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