Red, white and green

What was that colorful branch along the driveway? Where did it come from?

Funny, I couldn’t remember seeing this before. Very strange indeed for I feel I know most of the things growing on my land (though identifying them all is something else).

Standing out brilliantly against the browns and whites of winter, the stunning bright red was impossible not to notice. At this time of the year, there really isn’t much else to see with any color. And, honestly, except for the scarlet branches, this shrub didn’t have much to recommend it either.

A friend more knowledgeable than I immediately identified it as an osier. Well, that wasn’t quite accurate. The osier is a free-spreading shrub with many stems.

“Shrub”? Well, it’s called that for the want of a better word though it hardly matches any mind-picture I have of a shrub. Or a bush. It definitely is not bushy. Basically there are just a bunch of those bright scarlet branches popping up from the dirt.

And an osier is a willow, the one most often used to make baskets. My plant is a red osier, sometimes written redosier so to eliminate any confusion, which clearly does seem like a good idea. While the former is indeed a willow, this turns out to be a dogwood.

Dogwoods I was familiar with until an overly ambitious yard man destroyed them all. They had been very happy growing by the water’s edge and provided good photos and easy identification. I have little hope for them now but will check again come spring. And I do have a few willows, too. (I was told they’re a delicacy for my beavers but so far, so good.)

While waiting for spring to see what happened next, I read that the redosier is valued for its hardness and versatility, always to me good things to have. It is also said to like wet soil — no problem where it is — with a fibrous root system valuable to control erosion along the banks. And I’d feared it would slip away and disappear!

The books hinted that there was more to come. Beautiful flowers and then pea-sized white drupes in the fall — and what bird doesn’t like berries?

Bird-friendly fits it to a T for the more than eighteen species that include ruffed grouse, bobwhites, turkeys and the catbird. The branches provide dense cover for all sorts of wildlife including deer, rabbits and chipmunks. (I think I can eliminate elks and mooses here in Cassadaga.)

Photographs tell such a good story but otherwise, let me add the leaves are opposite and oval with “white threads creating a lovely effect as they run through the veins.” Look for the flowers that appear in mid-to-late spring. They are white to greenish, four-petalled and small, appearing in dense flat-topped clusters. Then, in late summer or early fall, the drupes mature.

My information claims this is an easy plant to grow, easy to transplant and, if not carefully watched, has a thicket-forming tendency, great for hedges but possibly not in a small yard. It would prefer strong sunlight for part of the day (wouldn’t we all?) but seems to survive with whatever it finds, including acidic or alkaline soils. Wet is great but it won’t tolerate really dry conditions.

I hope this all is true for the discovery was new last winter and I would happily welcome it back. Right now I can’t find much to encourage me.

Ah! I wrote prematurely. Walking down this chilly morning I stopped first to appreciate the gull flying low overhead with his flaps down. When I got to the road I could see those red branches are back again: randomly sticking up, hardly a respectable bush.

But I’m happy.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” following in 2014. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.

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