Witch Hazel: Mystery Tree That Flowers in October

22 Oct

The Wilder Side of Oakland County


The witch hazel tree is a small, hidden in plain sight, understory tree with gnarly-looking branches. Perhaps one of the strangest and least recognized native trees of Oakland County, it thrives in most parks with rich woodlands. Witch hazel spans the American countryside, from the deep forests of Maine and the Green Mountains of Vermont, to the hills and hidden hollers of the Appalachian Mountains, down into the lowland forests of the South.

With Halloween just around the corner, this tree, with a delightful mix of myth, mountain lore and scientific fact, is flowering right on schedule. Unlike most northern plants, that select spring as the season of blooms, the witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) waits until the cool, short days of October to produce delicate clusters of spidery, fragrant, yellow flowers. Few, however, notice the flowers, for they are lost in kaleidoscopes of rich colors in the woodlands on the wilder side of Oakland County. But when the strangely beautiful, little blossoms are framed by a dramatic backdrop of red maple leaves in their deep crimson finery, they draw the human eye and make one wonder what the previously unnoticed blooms might be.

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The Woods are on Fire; with the Blaze-Orange Color of Sassafras

16 Oct


Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) has set our woodland edges on fire with leaves that transformed from a dull green to a brilliant flame-orange color. The history and lore of this beautiful native tree of Oakland County is as rich and eye-catching as the autumn color of its uniquely shaped leaves. Three differently shaped leaves appear on the branches of this aromatic tree. As Michigan residents, we all recognize the mitten shape, the simple-looking leaf is known botanically as ‘entire’ and then there is the unmistakable three-lobed leaf.


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Fantastic Forest Fall Fungi

8 Oct



The River Loop Trail of Independence Oaks County Park is a perfect gateway to autumn color.

An eye-catching world of fungal wonders has emerged in the woodlands and forests of Oakland County and much of the rest of our Pure Michigan State. No matter where you hike in the days of October, if there are trees and the forest floor is moist, mushrooms may be found. Some of these colorful mushrooms, the fantastic fungi of the golden days of October, make one wonder if perhaps they have not entered a secret world of elves and fairies.

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Outwitting Fall Foliage Poison Ivy

1 Oct


As the days shorten and the nights cool, the woodlands of Oakland County are transforming into kaleidoscopes of color. Golden hues of sugar maple, the deep crimsons of sassafras and the scarlet-red shades of red maple are the dominant colors on nature’s autumn palette. However, there is one troublesome plant that hides in the showy mix, a plant dressed in alluring shades of red: Poison Ivy.


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Autumnal Equinox: Confirmed by Red Squirrels

25 Sep


Tamarack trees in the swamps of Oakland County are tinged in smoky gold. Straggler monarchs are winging south as days shorten and winds roughen. Crisp evening air is rich with the rhythmic song of crickets. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are in near frenzied activity at feeders. Geese are beginning to gather on palatial lakeside lawns and golf course greens in preparation for migration as flocks of robins and more than a few eastern bluebirds strip berries from dogwood thickets. All these signs of nature’s seasonal change signal the dawn of the autumnal equinox. But it is the accelerated nut-gathering activity of boisterous red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) that finalize the fact that the season of warmth is drawing to a close.

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Oakland County’s Tart and Tasty Invasive Species

18 Sep



Autumnberry is an invasive exotic species gone feral that thrives on the wilder side of Oakland County. It is one of the best kept wild food secrets of our county and perhaps the most abundant wild fruit across a large slice of North America. Most know this land-conquering plant, that outcompetes many native species of flora, as Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata). However, the United States Department of Agriculture has renamed the plant as Autumnberry to draw attention to its fruit. Continue reading

A Head Start Program for Turtles

11 Sep



The Detroit Zoo (located in Royal Oak) is 90 miles south of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw County.  But for 27 young Blanding’s turtles that slid from warm human hands into the cool duckweed-coated backwaters of the Shiawassee at the end of August, that journey to freedom took two years. These turtles were saved from near certain consumption by raccoons when they were still yummy munchies in their eggs. Multiple agencies worked on the project, a reminder to all who appreciate the wilder side of nature that all things are connected.

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