Look closely at about 7 o’clock on the flower and you will see a visitor who showed up half way through the clicks of my phone camera.
I was especially glad to see him given that I had just read that this past winter’s honeybee deaths were the highest in the 13 years of research into bee mortality. A parasitic mite seems to be infesting commercial bee colonies in the United States. The problem isn’t just losing the bees themselves. It’s that the agricultural industry relies on commercially raised honeybees to pollinate $15 billion of the U.S. food crops.* I don’t know if this little guy came from a commercial hive, or a local small one. But I was really happy that he showed up!
This beautiful dried seed pod is actually hazardous. Not poisonous, but then I assume that you wouldn’t even be tempted to try to eat it. But dangerous none-the-less. I have lived with Liquid Amber trees for 40 years: first in two houses, and now in an apartment. They are lovely trees. They grow fast, if you are looking for quick growing shade, and they are about the only tree here at the lower altitudes whose leaves reliably turn a beautiful scarlet in the fall.
But, oh, in both the spring and the fall, they can be dangerous. The seedpod above was one of many that were inexplicably left on the tree through the winter and only fell to the ground with the spring winds. Under normal conditions, these dried seedpods drop to the ground after the leaves fall off in autumn, and then grow back again in a bright green in the spring. In either season they are perilous. Our family has always called them “spiky balls.” In both spring and autumn if you accidentally step on one, it will roll out from under your shoe and cause a sprained ankle if you are not careful. And if you are silly enough to go out in bare feet? Well, I’ll leave that to your imagination. Suffice it to say that curses usually come out of your mouth.
However, the most perilous time is during the fall. As I say, under any sort of normal circumstances the tree releases the dried pods in October. The dried spikes are extremely sharp and have microscopic barbs on them. Humans are usually sensible enough to wear shoes. But dogs have a harder time. At the house, I always kept the pathway from the front door down to the street swept clear, and we didn’t have a Liquid Amber in the backyard, thank goodness, because that is where our dog, Zoë, was free to roam. But here in Oakland, the tree is planted by the city on the corner that I more or less have to use when I take the dog(s) out for a walk. This spring Zoë stepped on the unseasonably late release of the dried pods and got an infected paw 3 times. That meant expensive antibiotics and the fact that I had to soak her paw. That procedure took 2 people because I had to put the solution in a sort of ballon thing, stick her paw into it, and then sit with her for 10 minutes encouraging her not to pull her paw out. Neither one of us was particularly happy. Neither I, my friends, or the vet could find anything embedded in her paw the first time, so the infection was a puzzle. It wasn’t until the third infection (and by now several hundred dollars later, because the first time the doctor had to do a set of x-rays to make sure she didn’t have a small fracture) that I figured out that it was the seed pods that were causing the punctures.
So there I was, with the dog upstairs in our apartment on the 10th floor, and me down on a public street corner with my red broom and dust pan, sweeping up three dust pan’s full of seedpods, and carrying each full pan back into our building to throw them away.
However, when all of that was said and done, and Zoë was finally once again infection free and feeling fine, I took a macro shot of one of the pods. I looked at the swirls, the spikes, and the complexity of the structure, and I had to grudgingly admit that looked at up close, the pods are absolutely beautiful.