Two weeks ago, I wrote about signs of a second spring in your garden, those plants who put on a new floral show in the fall, like roses, or that have their seed cycle in the fall, like some elm trees.
This week, let’s flip the perspective and consider the end of the summer season. It’s an eye and brain exercise in noticing details. Here are three questions to use in assessing your yard.
- What visual signs have you included to remind you of the seasonal change?
- What deliberate choices have you made to allow plants their full life cycle?
- Where in your garden could you choose to enjoy plants when they get brown and seedy?
Early morning is a wonderful time to walk through your garden and look for the brown things that signal the coming of fall. Even when it’s 103 degrees outside, the plants are busy following through with their promise of fruits and seeds that are counted on by wildlife. And when I say wildlife, I don’t mean just birds and possums. Everything that’s a seed-eater, or relies on seed-eaters in their food chain, welcomes the bounty plants are creating now.
Here are a few of the brown, crispy seed pods and seed heads that I found in a 10-minute walk:
- Prairie coneflower
- Mexican hat
- Pride of Barbados
- Heartleaf skullcap
- Mexican buckeye
- Texas mountain laurel
- Little bluestem grasses
- Alamo vine
- Wafer ash
The huisache tree, Acacia farnesiana, has small, very hard dark brown pods, usually only an inch or inch-and-a-half long. In my yard, its blooms get snapped by late frost sometimes in the spring, so it’s delightful when the tree can yield pods in the fall. It takes several seasons for these to weather enough to open and expose the seeds. But I’ve noticed that the squirrels chomp easily on the huisache. Since it’s an acacia, related to mesquite, the seeds must be a nourishing nosh for the fluffy-tailed critters fattening up for winter.
Texas mountain laurel, Sophora secundiflora, has pale gray-brown seed pods that are so hard it can take years for the seeds to escape. That’s part of the tree’s natural approach to surviving the Texas climate, especially drought and floods. The wafer ash, by contrast, has a light green seed. It’s surrounded by a round, papery wing, poised to spread with wind if it’s not immediately gobbled by critters.
The Alamo vine, Ipomoea sinuata, is a small vine with lacy leaves, at least in my yard. In places with much more rain and better soil, it’s considered invasive. The seed pod is dainty, too. It opens in layers – first an outside shell that spreads into 4 wings, then a lighter tan ball cracks to reveal the black seeds inside.
The prairie coneflower and Mexican hat have stiff tubes of seeds that hang around through the fall and are gradually nibbled by the finches and other tiny birds that sit on the flower stalks to have a snack.
And about this time two years ago, I wrote about the heat snapping the seed pods of the Anacacho orchid tree, Bauhinia lunaroides. What I saw on this walk was the twisted empty seed pods that had already exploded, pushing the seeds far from the tree to try life elsewhere in the garden.