December means hiking into a special dry place in our woods. It’s a bald spot, open and dry and sunny. A magic carpet of deer moss yields spongy with each step. Silvery green carpet colors, climb the little haw trees too. Lichens, with silver leaves. Only lichens are not plants, so they don’t have leaves. I don’ t know what you call these gray spongy hairs but not leaves.
I’m here for a branch of haw. It’s a critical Christmas decoration in our house. You might find that hard to believe, since branches are lined with long sharp spines. But I remember the architecture of this tree from way, way back in childhood. Every Christmas, my grandfather, we called him GranGran, made a gum drop tree from a mayhaw branch. So, every December, I trek to this favorite little mystery spot that seems so dry, but is home to plants that live on the moisture in the air, to cut a lichen covered branch, to paint silver, to hold up sparkly gum drops, in hopes some child today will remember the architecture of the tree and fall in love with the bald spot in the woods.
May Haw Trees; Beautiful dark, craggy bark, these small trees grow at odd angles and with undisciplined habit. That makes them fascinating year round. Early March flowers (first week of March here) look like little apple blossoms. By August, marble sized red fruit, edible but not tasty, cover the tree. Craetegus brachyacantha grows upright, about like a dogwood in size, but casting a gentle, lovely shade. One species stays tight and small, C. monogyna, makes a dense lovely plant that seems to have been carefully pruned.
Deer Moss: This lichen is actually a combination of three different living organisms. All living together to make a unique form, all compatible house-mates. Deer moss is a fungus, a bacteria and an algae. The stuff of science fiction. It has no roots so absorbs all its water from the air. In the dry part of summer, deer moss crunches underfoot. In wet season, it’s spongy. Slow growing, a colony of deer moss is decades old.
Gum Drop Tree: A simple, sparkling Christmas display. For me, its from a haw tree. But today you can find charming gum drop trees made from all sorts of branches, metal or plastic.