Christine was intrigued by my mention of the mystery tree I found growing in Ray Trent Park. She asked a few questions, but I added a few of my own.
First it a close-up of the main trunk, to show the scaly bark pattern. It’s pretty thick for something this short, and there’s no evidence of cropping, so it’s naturally squat and grows in a random brambly pattern. The tips of new growth stems are sharp and bare, though not quite a thorn. You can reach into it without much risk, but you could get a mild scratch if you aren’t paying attention.
Here is the backside of a still green leaf, indicating the vein pattern. With the wind blowing, I had to wait a bit for a moment when it slacked enough to catch the leaf holding still. You have to keep in mind that I’m chatting with this tree the whole time. When I announced my intention, the response I got was rather like, “Oh, yipee. An adventure!” No sarcasm, but a bit impish.
I overstated the softness of the berries. Back in the spring, when they were red, I got the impression of a very hard little pebble. This orange fruit in the fall has just a tiny bit of give when squeezed. I cut open several of them. There are seeds in star-form around the center. One, maybe two, are always quite large like a pit, so the “star” is usually a little off-center. The rest are tiny dark flakes. I tasted the juice; it was mostly sweet, a little tart and no bitterness at all. My mouth offered no surprising reactions.
Aside from the taste, it reminds me just a bit of persimmons. I’ll have to check back after the first frost to see if the berries change. Meanwhile, I took one small branch off. The wood required moderate effort to cut with a sharp pocket knife. It stripped easily with just a minimum of effort using my thumbnail. The bark flakes instead of peeling off in larger sections. The wood was moderately sappy with a sweet, fruity smell. It reminded me broadly of melons; it persisted long after drying on my nails. After drying, the sap tasted faintly bitter. The picture shows the sample sitting on my bike saddle.
There is another such tree growing a few meters away, but that one is deeply entangled with some other quick-growing “weed” tree that could kill it in a few years. I can’t say which one tried to hijack the other, but I think the berry tree is likely to lose the battle. Just to be sure, I rode around a bit in the tall grass along both creeks and saw nothing like this particular tree anywhere. I know for sure I’ve not seen it elsewhere in this part of Oklahoma. That striking contrasting color scheme in the spring was quite memorable.