Christmas Wishes from the Wetlands

So favored by Whooping Cranes it’s fruits sometimes are called ‘crane candy,’ the plant known as Carolina Wolfberry (Lycium carolinianum) also is known as Christmas Berry.  A member of the nightshade family, its rich purple flowers begin forming fruit in late fall — just in time to feed hungry cranes arriving from the north, and to fill wetlands and ditches with the vibrant red and green traditionally associated with Christmas.

When I found this unusually tall and well-formed plant, I couldn’t help but smile. It seemed joyful and festive: a perfect Christmas-berry ‘tree’ to mark the season. I hope it brings you a smile, too, just as I hope your own season is filled with peace and joy.

Comments always are welcome.

57 thoughts on “Christmas Wishes from the Wetlands

    1. It was a pleasure to find a plant that showed off both its leaves and its berries so nicely. You can see that some creature already had snatched a few berries from the lower left, but I’ll not begrudge them that.

      1. The USDA range map shows that Carolina wolfberry is quite at home in your area—as we see—but the closest to Austin it’s been documented is Gonzales County to the south and McLennan County to the north. Maybe I’ll finally see some on one of our occasional jaunts to Gonzales County.

        1. By the way: I could have titled this “Christmas Berries à la Schwartzman.” The plant was about 8″ tall, which meant going to ground to include the additional foliage and the sky.

    1. I can’t answer those questions, but I can assure you that these are non-toxic both to birds and humans. We shouldn’t eat non-ripe berries, but once they’ve turned this attractive, deep red, they can be eaten raw, dried, or made into tea. You probably know one of their close relatives: the goji berry.

    1. This is one of my favorite plants; I’ll be posting more photos that include its lovely flowers. As for the remaining days of the year, at least the weather is cooperating; we’re scheduled for sunny, bright, and warm until a possible cool-down in the early days of 2022.

    1. Merry Christmas to you, Sherry. Nature’s decorations are rather different from those at Saks, but they’re just as pleasing. I hope something equally pleasing decorates your day.

    1. No fires, for sure. I found some other visitors from the north in a rice field, though — snow geese! It’s the first time I’ve seen such a large flock in years, and it was quite a delight.

        1. When I first moved here, they filled the fields west of town (the Katy prairie and the rice fields). There’s been so much development out there that I don’t think they show up there, but in Brazoria and Colorado counties, there are a lot of rice fields (and perhaps other grains) that attract them.

          We get the white pelicans, too. They have a favorite spot I can see while I’m crossing the Kemah/Seabrook bridge: one pelican per piling.

    1. I just noticed you found a bit of red to decorate the holidays, too, Ann. Do you celebrate Boxing Day, too? I still laugh when I remember my childhood misunderstanding about that holiday; I thought people actually fought one another!

      1. We treat Boxing Day as a day to just relax and take it easy – no particular celebrations, just a good day to do whatever we fancy. :) I do wonder where the weird name came from!

        1. Here’s a short article I bumped into that makes sense. What I found especially interesting is that it’s a relatively new term, showing up in print for the first time in 1833. We don’t use the term, but the practice is familiar. For some years, I put together Christmas boxes for the International Seamen’s Center to give to sailors who were in port here on Christmas day.

  1. It doesn’t look much like a traditional Christmas tree, but I can see its value. And really, not all things have to meet my criteria to be useful! Happy Christmas, Linda — enjoy the day and the season!

    1. When Christmas comes, I’ll take my red and green in any form, especially when it’s as bright and cheery as this! I hope your celebrations were wonderful, Debbie. I hope Santa was kind to Monkey, too, even though he’s not been exactly perfect this past year. Now, it’s on to the new year, and better times for us all.

    1. Thanks, Rob! I thought of you when I saw reports of that horrid accident on Wisconsin’s icy roads. I hope your holiday travel was less traumatic, and that you were able to celebrate with family and friends.

    1. The leaves are succulent. I was pleased to find a plant with such nice, plump leaves to frame the berries. It is beautiful. I’ll no doubt do another post about it, since I had to make myself leave the flowers out of this one, to highlight its appropriateness for Christmas.

  2. Now this is really interesting. While Whooping Cranes are known to eat a range of plant food, in the four volumes on my shelf: Cranes of the World (Johnsgard), The Whooping Crane (McNulty), Cranes – A Natural History of a Bird in Crisis (Hughes) and Return of the Whooping Crane (Doughty) I can find no reference to Carolina Wolfberry. I learned something new!

    1. I found it interesting that none of your sources mentioned something so well-known here. I did a search for the plant by its scientific name + whooping crane, and found this paper based in research done in the cranes’ wintering ground at the Aransas Wildlife Refuge. I’m sure there are more. The abstract says:

      “The coastal salt marshes of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Texas, USA support a wintering population of the endangered Whooping Crane (Grus americana). Although the bulk of their winter diet is comprised of blue crabs, berries from the Carolina wolfberry (Lycium carolinianum) can contribute 21–52% of crane energy intake early in the wintering period.”

      How about that!

    1. I’ve seen Whooping Cranes in flight as they passed over my area on their way to their wintering grounds, but I’ve never made it down there to see them. It’s on my wish list, too!

        1. You’ve reminded me of an old phrase I often heard in childhood: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” I always smile when I remember it — so true!

  3. Although we know it lives in our coastal marshes, we’re always startled to see bright shiny green and red among the sea of brown grasses and sparse vegetation of sand dunes.

    Thank you for highlighting a Christmas season delight!

    1. This is one plant that seems to insist on being seen. Whether in flower or fruit, it’s a beauty; I’m glad you have it, too. I wonder if it’s so easily seen by a Whooping Crane cruising at altitude?

    1. It can be a little tricky to get down on a plant’s level, but it worked out well here, making for a more interesting photo. I took a few with the surrounding plants providing the background, but this little beauty got lost in all the green. Because it was more than usually attractive, I wanted to find a way to let it really shine.

      1. You managed it! I can’t think whether I’ve ever seen this plant, but the foliage is lovely, too, almost looking succulent. I bet the cranes are grateful for the ease of spotting the colorful berries.

    1. The holly and the ivy have a bit of competition, don’t they? This is one of my favorite plants. I’ll post about it again, so I can show the glorious purple/lavender flowers, and show it against a watery background. I was tickled beyond words to find this ‘tree-shaped’ plant.

    1. I just was noticing today that our two Ilex species are putting on quite a show. The past couple of years, the pickings have been a little slim for the birds that enjoy them, but this year every tree is just loaded. I’m still hypothesizing that all the rich blooming and berrying is in part a response to last February’s freeze. We’re all hoping not to go through that again — although there’s a true-blue Blue Norther on its way, and it ought to be off the coast in maybe four or five hours. We’re still sitting at 73, but up in Amarillo a friend has snow, 10F, and -12 wind chill. They dropped something like 27 degrees in less than an hour. Yee-haw!

      1. My impression of Texas winter is changing although I know many of these events are unusual. There have been huge temperature drops reported across the U.S. midsection recently and the storm that hit the mid-Atlantic coast was quite unusual. I grumble when I am stuck in traffic for 5 minutes much less two days as in some cases.We had a few inches yesterday and now will be experienced temps in the teens for a while.
        I think your hypothesis is probably right on. Quite often some extreme weather does trigger unusual growth and performance. Normal is better.

        1. Yesterday, another front rolled off the coast, and the high was 52F. Last night, that front backed up, and only 24 hours later, we were sitting at 75. It’s weird and takes some getting used to, but this is our normal — and the reason those of us who work outdoors sometimes change clothes three times a day: sweatshirts and jackets to tee shirts and shorts, and back again!

          1. That’s just not what I thought of the weather there but of course by the ocean makes a big difference as I’ve experienced when visiting Acadia. I have a very wide comfort zone but those changes would have me layering and delayering, I think.

            1. Think of us as a big meteorological battleground, where warm tropical air masses continually are trying to repel onslaughts from the chilly north. That’s really what it is, and the ‘front lines’ of the war are constantly changing as the warm and cold fronts ebb and flow.

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