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Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


The growing season is senescing. In the temperate region, it would seem that most plant life grows old at the same time and dies. Many species complete their adult life cycle by late fall. It appears life comes to an end with death surrounding us until new life and growth resurges in the spring.  

No more strawberries, raspberries, or apples to harvest. Fortunately, we are still able to pick and enjoy apples late into fall in our backyard tree. Deer also enjoy them. The raspberries are gone by late summer. Strawberries from the garden are a distant memory from early summer. Each plant has its own moment in the sun. 

Growth and life cycles in nature niches are linked with day length. More accurately I should refer to night length. It is the hours of darkness that most influences the timing of annual flowering and fruit production. As the hours of darkness increase during the fall, senescence advances.

When the girls were young, we had a wonderful raspberry garden in the front yard and a strawberry patch in the backyard. Raspberries seemed to attack with serious thorns when we tried to harvest fruit. Strawberries were not defensive in that manner but required more bending. As the girls aged, we added what I called patch gardens. They were small 4 by 6-foot flower gardens that were their responsibility. It was a good way to introduce them to the value of caring for life. They selected the plants they wanted to grow.

Plants in our produce garden served some nutrition needs and the flower gardens were feasted on by eyes. Besides glorious feasting for our eyes, flower gardens provided food for small neighbors like bees and butterflies. They attracted birds and small mammals into view that enriched our lives. 

When I was young, my mother was busy in fall canning tomatoes and other produce in Kerr jars. She aged and her own senescence arrived. A few years ago, we emptied her residence and found Kerr jars that were passed on to others. Canning from personal gardens is done by fewer people now in this age of economic richness. 

People complain about the bad economy but nearly all families have more economic resources than families had 60 years ago. People now afford warmer homes, more travel, an abundance of electronic gadgets, outrageously priced phones and service instead of party phone lines. Many have phones for each family member instead of several families sharing a party line. We have more clothes than needed and most kids no longer go to school with patches sown on pants except for stylish appearance. Most can afford to buy food and do not need to grow their own. Today, many grow food to avoid pesticides and herbicides. Our apple tree is chemical free providing healthy apples.

Looking beyond our personal needs, we see wild neighbors struggle to survive in balance with natural life cycle influences of season, precipitation, soil nutrients, predators, necessary plants and animal associates. Fall signals, it is time for plants to senesce. Their demise is hastened some years by an early killing frost. This year, frost delayed to late October. Plants still progressed with their aging and decline. 

Metabolic activity and cell growth came to a season’s end without a killing frost. Many plants die to the ground and store personal produce in roots for a spring resurgence. The roots and stems of others die completely but their kind survives because they leave behind seeds to replenish the Earth. 

Senescence comes to us all. Along the way we can experience and enjoy the abundance and variety of life when we allow wild neighbors to provide real richness in our lives. As I pen this, red leaves on maples, yellow on cherries and maroon on oaks signal the annual passage of time. I wonder how many more cycles of color and falling leaves I will experience. 

It is always sad to see summer go but I have great hope and anticipation for spring that I am sure will come.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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