I am partial to the color orange. Given my birthplace (City of Orange, in Orange County, CA) and my choice of colleges in central Texas for a graduate education, I am beset by good feelings when I settle my eye on almost anything in the color spectrum about midway between yellow and red. A nice sunset, a migrating Monarch, a lively prescribed burn dancing through a prairie--and orange M&Ms--all bring a smile to my face. (I also grin at the thought of all the other colors of the candy that purportedly "melts in your mouth, not in your hand".) But as for orange junipers, ... not so much.
I'm home for the holidays with a long "Do List" of tasks in the yard.
I have to work fast: The cedar pollen is upon us
*. Along with thousands of other central Texans, I suffer from cedar fever from late December to early February. When I see the young developing pollen cones on the tips of cedar branches in mid-December, I begin to tense up; I know my time out-of-doors is limited. If I had enough vacation time accrued, I'd probably spend the whole winter in some warmer, cedar-less landscape.
It is only slight comfort to know that not every cedar tree carries pollen. Cedars are unisexual, with male and female flowers on separate trees. The cedars loaded down with the familiar blue berries are the female trees. The pollen of course comes from male flowers. Now in early
winter, the sexes are easy to distinguish because any mature male cedar old enough to form pollen cones gradually morphs into the dreaded orange hue.
We all make choices: My wife and I chose to move into a nice home on a wooded lot which included about two dozen mature juniper trees. In a bit of cruel irony, as many as 11 of the 15 biggest cedar trees immediately around the house (i.e. right outside my windows and doors) are male. I guess we lost that lottery, for which the odds of "winning" or "losing" should be 50-50. I've consulted with author and juniper expert Elizabeth McGreevy about this skewed finding and we have no ready explanation.
Here's a homework assignment: Right now while the censusing is easy, put on a pollen mask, go out in your yard or on your ranch, and take a census of all your cedar trees (i.e. the older ones) to see what your ratio of male (small orange cones) to females (blue berries OR green without berries or cones). The bigger the sample the better. If you own dozens of acres or thousands of trees, a random sample or a linear transect through a typical stand will be sufficient ... unless you are reeeeeally into counting junipers. Send your juniper census (number of male and female trees; total sample size) to my work email at chuck_sexton AT fws.gov. At the end of January, I'll compile all the results and report back on this new citizen science effort.
After several weeks of suffering--from the pollen, not from statistics--I'll look forward to these same trees turning from bright orange to a darker reddish brown. That marks the time when the male cones have finally dispensed the last of their pollen and the cones are about to fall off the trees. If I understand the physiology of this tree correctly, in the early part of the pollen season it is a freeze followed by bright blue skies and a warm sun that will cause the male cones to burst and offer up their grief. Oddly, late in the cycle, it is precisely another freeze (or a good hard rain) and a gusty day which will put the cones on the ground. Good riddance.
Just to leave you on an upbeat note, here are some nicer orange things in the natural world:
* * * * *"Below the Line"
* It is common knowledge in central Texas that "cedar" and "juniper" refer to the same trees. While it is true that all of the juniper we see in the Refuge area belongs to one species, Juniperus ashei, I apply my own grammatical twist on this botanical nomenclature: When I speak of this woody component in good Golden-cheeked Warbler habitat or when I am admiring some old stately survivor of this type, I reverently call them "Ashe junipers", but when I speak of the same species of plant invading prairies and rangeland, I spit out the vernacular "cedars" with the all the disrespect you'd expect from a long-time Texan.
[As usual, the nice bird portraits are from my compadre Greg Lasley; the rest of the images are my own.]