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On a recent walk with my friend Ann Nolte on her husband’s family farm in Calhoun County, we were puzzled about the lack of beautyberry berries. Callicarpaamericana grows profusely throughout woodlands, and I have often cut branch after branch laden with gorgeous purple fruits on that very property. This year we passed typical expansive groves of plants with their distinctive leaves; turning yellow early in the fall. But search as we might, we found only a few berries.
Beautyberry is found in almost any open woods. It tends to be tall and sprawling with unbranched limbs.
Gardeners plant it in full sun for more fruits and cut it back severely each spring to get shorter, more abundant shoots, with heavier berry production.
Why has there been such a shortage, in my part of the world at least, this year? This plant requires very little moisture once established, and we’ve had a gloriously wet year, so I don’t think we can blame the scarcity of fruit on lack of rain.
All I can think of is that we must have had a freeze right when the flowers were blooming. If I were more scientific I would be able to look back at weather records and confirm my hunch, but I’m not, so I’m sticking with my hypothesis.
Now, there’s also been a shortage of banana spiders and I can’t for the life of my come up with any plausible reason for their notable absence. At Kiawah last weekend (for my brother’s wedding!), I did find Callicarpa berries which somewhat reinforced my“ freeze during flowering” idea as it is warmer in the winter there than up in the midlands. Usually when we visit that Island in the fall, gagumba banana spiders are suspended all above the bike paths. I have had a grand time in the past catching grasshoppers and pulling off their heads and feeding them to the big females. But this year not a single specimen did we see.
The argiope, or writing spiders, conversely, seem to be especially plentiful this year. I have four of them hanging out immediately outside windows at the house and had five or six in the vegetable garden. I carefully walked back to the beginnings of the okra rows to avoid disturbing them as they leave if pestered too much. I have to admit that I did on occasion give in the delightful pleasure of tickling their backs and to make them shake their webs.
The beach at Kiawah was absolutely littered with starfish. I haven’t got a theory about them but my new sister-in-law’s family from near Pittsburg sure had fun collecting them for the trip home. We packed them in triple zip-lock bags as they tend to be pretty ripe during the curing process.
Maybe nature just likes to keep us guessing. With the election so close, there are many subjects that are off limits. So far no one has been offended by discussions on spiders and berries.