Monday, June 24, 2019

Natural Cycles

Trailing Arbutus has captured and held our attention for the past several years.  Most articles written describe transplanting this plant as impossible.  Patient observations spanning years resulted in the 2011 move of the six plants pictured here.  We are still learning their life cycle by watching and trying to understand what we see.  Arbutus is an evergreen plant but we seldom see an old dead leaf.  Nearby oak trees spread their large dead leaves some of which cover Arbutus leaves.  Fearful that oak covers will kill desired leaves, many late fall days are spent hand picking oak leaves.  That activity may not be necessary.

This year's new leaves are a bright light green while old Arbutus leaves are dark.  New growth stretches upward covering nearly all of the old leaves.  Heavy snow cover presses exposed leaves close to the ground.  The same fate will soon enough present itself to these tall new leaves.  For now one must search to see a nearly completely hidden dark leaf.  A question concerning the need to remove fallen oak leaves remains unanswered.  It may be that the cycle of lush new Arbutus growth will also forever hide the older leaves.

This second attempt to transplant Arbutus was made in 2014.  Three male plants and three female plants were moved here.  New growth has yet to completely overwhelm older growth so patches of old dark leaves are easily spotted.  We expect that in the not too distant future new growth will completely cover this ground hiding the older leaves.

These plants have reliably produced seed for a number of years but very few seed clusters can be found now.  Our early spring weather was unusually mild and these plants opened their flowers slowly over a long period of time.  Usually all of the blossoms open at the same time allowing successful fertilization to happen.  Perhaps next year will see seed here again.  Despite several years of mature seed, we have yet to see a new plant growing from seed.  Any new plants would be nearly impossible to find under the tangled mat of old stems and leaves.  We keep searching the surrounding area for new plants from seed but have to date failed to find them.  It may be that several years on the ground are needed before germination occurs.  A knowledgeable visitor suggested five as the number of years needed.

Only two plants make up our 2016 move to transplant.  Each gender is present and these smaller plants once again are maturing seed.  At the same time lush new growth is expanding the range of each plant. We find it amazing that the female plant grows both seed clusters as well as new stems and leaves at the same time.  Now it is impossible to tell where one plant ends and the other begins.

Twenty-five years ago this wild arbutus planting was found by the new land owners.  Some years we would enjoy sweet blossoms while no trace of the plant could be found most other years.  A disappearing snow cover held evidence that a rabbit was feeding on the newly exposed evergreen Arbutus leaves. It turns out that the problem may not with transplanting Arbutus but with starved animals feeding on the newly placed evergreen leaves.  Wire cages placed just inside low stone walls protect these plants.  Just how an Arbutus plant can recover from having all of its above ground growth eaten remains a mystery.  This cycle of disappearing then staging a come back must be natural for this plant.  When compared with the size of our transplants, this natural occurrence of much older plants is tiny.

Our time on this land is coming to an end.  We intend to leave these Arbutus plantings protected with wire cages.  As new growth extends past the safe area, we will work to keep the new growth moving outward under the cage bottoms.  That way we will still be able to remove the cage for house cleaning.  We will not be surprised to see these unprotected plant parts eaten by woodchucks, rabbits or deer.

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