Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

November 20, 2008

Raisins and Drupes

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:55 pm

Nature’s Holiday table is set with a display of artfully arranged raisins and drupes (see above).  The invitations are out and the diners should be arriving anytime now. The feast, in this case, is one intended for over-wintering birds but the offering is not so far off from our own fare. A bowl of raisins, dried plums, apricots, and peaches will be a perfectly normal sight on the after-dinner coffee table from here on out. Next week marks the beginning of our consumptive season when it is time to get fattened for the winter. Food, therefore, is a very topical subject which is why I bring it up. “Bringing food up” certainly can have two holiday meanings, but I am strictly speaking of food that goes down and stays down!

  I am speaking about the over ripe fruit of wild grapes and Gray Dogwoods that will be heading down the throats of winter birds such as Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and dozens of other avian species. Without this abundant bounty life for them would be in the pits.  These fruits have long passed their prime and are now shriveling under the influence of dry air, wind, and cold. They are being freeze-dried, as it were, and preserved for storage well into the winter months.

  My comparison of wild raisins to their cultured cousins is not very obscure since dried grapes are raisins – wild or not. Wild grape clusters are spare affairs with only a dozen or so berries in each cluster. Each aged grape is packed with tart goodness and about 5 seeds per package.  This is as good a time as any to remind the French that this is the lowly savage grape that once saved their collective wine butts many years ago. Yes, when French grapevines were dying out our native stock was used to save the industry.  They don’t bring this up too often (except perhaps in the spirit of the second meaning of the phrase).  I don’t know much about the French raisin industry, but I suspect it is second fiddle to the wine industry. Our birds happen to like wild raisins and that’s all that matters.

  Now, the drupe thing might have been more confusing to you. A drupe is a type of fruit that has a fleshy portion overlaying a single hard “stone,” or pit, which in turn encloses a seed of some sort. Peaches, plums, apricots and the like are drupes by definition and so are Dogwood berries. Large dried fruits are nature’s candy and so too are tiny dried dogwood fruits. White berries, held up by bright red panicles, are the easily identified crop of the so-called Gray Dogwood. Each berry has only a scant fleshy portion to offer, but they are rich in fat and make up for their individual deficiencies by fruiting in great abundance. Over 95 species of birds have been recorded eating these berries and numerous mammals have been known to get in on the act as well. I don’t know what the French would say about it, but dried dogwood is good stuff.

 On a final note, allow me to remind you again that this discussion of dry winter fruit will all come out in the end. Birds may eat these berries, and keep them down, but they eventually will, well, you know….let them go out the other end.  These “let out” packets will contain the grape and dogwood seeds that will grow into the products that will cover future winter dining plates. The grand cycle of life can be a very basic thing. The French know this but prefer to keep it under wraps.

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