Tupelo’s leaves change color early in the early fall and it has been suggested that this signal might alert migrating birds to the presence of ripe fruits on the tree, a process known as foliar fruit flagging. This way the tree gets its seeds spread to farther distances.
Plants producing early colorful fall foliage and fruits include dogwood, spicebush, virginia creeper and the tupelo. These woodies produce fruits called ‘drupes’. Drupes are stone fruits (like cherries) that have a thin outer skin, a pulpy middle and a stony center enclosing a seed. The fleshy part of these drupes is full of fat, just what a hungry, migrating bird is looking for!
Many early ripening drupes are red, and easy for birds to see, however others, like virginia creeper, tupelo and sassafras, are dark-colored and not easy to see. That makes the brightly colored leaves or ‘flags’ on these plants crucial for the fall migrants to see.
Seed dispersal obviously helps the tree species, and passing through a birds digestive system is sometimes required for the seed to germinate. This process is called ‘scarification’, which simply means the hard, outer shell of the seed needs to be compromised for the seedling to emerge. The gizzard of a bird does well to damage the outer hull of a seed.
I recently saw two Cedar Waxwings testing out the fruit on my tree… Not quite ready was my impression when the quickly flew away without dining. I had to go find out for myself and agreed, the fruit tasted like a sour cherry and needs a few more days to ripen. I hope they will be back soon =-)
I bet when the day comes these are ripe, it will be a one-day event that the tree is cleared of fruit!
Zone: 3 to 9
Height: 30 to 50 feet
Spread: 20 to 30 feet
Form: Pyramidal when young; opens with age; some branches are pendulous; right angled branches are attractive in winter
Bloom Time: May to June, insignificant
Bloom Description: Greenish white
Fruit: 1/2″ blue drubes – edible but sour
Fall Color: yellow, orange, bright red and purple
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Tolerate: Clay Soil, Wet Soil
© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl