During walks with the dogs through our Louisiana neighborhood in January we noticed irregular balls of green leaves in tall trees that were otherwise barren. We eventually found a clump of this near enough to the ground to take a reasonable picture, and the ‘Picture This’ app identified it as oak mistletoe. Of course we are familiar with mistletoe because of Christmas, but had not realized that it grows locally.

Clumps of mistletoe in barren trees

Oak mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum) is a hemiparasitic plant that generates some food on its own through photosynthesis, but also steals water and nutrients from its host. Heavy infestations of mistletoe can kill host tress.

The white berries of the oak mistletoe are mildly poisonous to humans, but are an important food for some birds. Birds spread mistletoe seeds from tree to tree, the seeds stick in tree branches thanks to a sticky coating called viscin. After germination, a structure known as the haustorium attaches the mistletoe to its host and taps into the resources of the host tree. The haustorium can be seen in the center image below, along with white mistletoe berries.

Sweetgum Balls

The American Sweetgum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) is the second most common tree in Louisiana forests (the most common is the Loblolly Pine). Sweetgums are also plentiful in our local suburban landscape despite a significant drawback, the spiny seed-carrying balls that fall from their branches by the hundreds this time of year.

Sweetgum balls yet to fall on my yard
A small sample of the sweetgum balls raked up today

The sweetgum is a fast-growing tree that can reach heights up to 100 feet. In summer its plentiful maple-like leaves make it a very effective shade tree. In the 1940’s several cities promoted planting sweetgums as replacements for elms killed by Dutch elm disease. However it has fallen out of favor in landscaping. Because of its leaves and gumballs it is now recognized as one of the messiest trees.

The gumballs are a particular nuisance to large dogs like our greyhound. They are just the right size to be lodged between the pads of his paws. Many times gumballs jammed between his pads have fooled us into thinking he had badly hurt his foot.

Japanese Camellia

The Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica), is one of two camellias commonly used as ornamental shrubs in the southern United States. The other common camellia is the Sasanqua camellia, which has smaller blooms and leaves. In SE Louisiana the Japanese camellia has recently begun blooming in early January, just as the earlier-blooming Sasanquas are finishing flowering.

Japanese camellias originated in east Asia, and were introduced to the southern United States in the early 1800’s. Now there are thousands of Japanese camellia cultivars available to provide color to winter landscapes. Some have been developed that are hardy as far north as Zone 6.

Full Cold Moon

According to the Farmer’s Almanac the full moon in December is known in North America as the Full Cold Moon. Tuesday, December 29 was the day that the Full Cold Moon was at its fullest, but it was still very impressive yesterday (December 30) when these pictures were taken.

The weather was unseasonably warm in SE Louisiana yesterday, so it was comfortable to be outside experimenting with iPhone settings in attempts to get photos that do the scene justice.

Clear Water

We are fortunate to live beside a lake with very clear water. Effectively capturing its clarity in a photo is difficult.

Real estate ads for properties on lakes in the area with clear water commonly include photos like this, taken looking down on the water from our dock. Plants on the lake bottom, under about 3 feet of water, are clearly evident — but it does not provide a good perspective.

The short video above shows how you can watch fish in the lake from your kayak. I think they are bluegills.

Pictures of lily pads in the lake taken from the kayak give a better perspective of the water’s clarity.

This Painted Turtle was also enjoying a day on the lake. It is easy to see these turtles swimming under the water, but getting a photo of this is tough.