Wednesday, December 17, 2008

In a Nutshell: Alabama Supplejack

Alabama supplejack (Berchemia scandens) is easy to spot at this time of year in the bare north Alabama woods. It is a beautiful little twinning vine with lovely shaped, heavily veined leaves. These leaves are the quintessential leave-regular in shape, parallel veins, and pleasing in color. Miller and Miller in their book, Forest Plants of the Southeast and Their Wildlife Uses, quaintly call supplejack "tardily deciduous." True to their account, the supplejack around here stubbornly has hung onto its leaves refusing to believe it is deciduous despite several nights with hard frosts and temperatures in the low 20's.

The supplejack, also know as rattan vine, climbs up supports by scrambling up over trees or twining up tree trunks with its pliant vines. It prefers moist soils, but it is not unusual to find it growing on dry, dolomite glades in the Ozarks tangled across the rocks. The lianas are quite strong measuring up to three inches across, and sometimes they throttle the supporting trunk killing the tree. Many walking sticks with a natural spiral form were made by supplejack vine! The "rattan" vines have been used in making wicker in this county, and although I do not think it is being commercially used, for artisans it is a good basket material.

The flowers bloom in May and June. They are non-descript tiny, star-shaped green flowers grouped in panicles at the end of stems. Some places the vine is thick enough to be the dominant pollen used to produce a dark colored amber honey. In Louisiana it is important contributor to the honey crop. The supplejack's small flowers fruit into a syncarpous drupe with a single stone containing two seeds. It is a lovely shade of dark, concord grape-blue and is pea sized. The fruits, although not high in protein, are high in calcium. Many birds eat the fruits, but often later in winter, quail, turkeys, and ducks among them. Mammals eat the fruits too, for raccoon and grey squirrels they are tasty treats. Deer feed on the tender foliage in spring and early summer; in fact, it is a preferred food.

The supplejack in this photo is the same as in the above winter photos. Can you find it? Look in the right hand top corner.

Pam Croom © 2008

References about Supplejack:

Kurz, D. 1997. Shrub and Woody Vine of Missouri. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri

Lieux, M.H. A 1971. Melissopalynological Study of 54 Lousiana (U.S.A.) Honeys. Review of Paleobotany and Palynology. 13: 95-124

Miller, J.H. and K.V. Miller. 2005. Forest Plants of the Southeast and Their Wildlife uses. rev. ed. University of Georgia Press. Athens

Radford, A.E., H.E. Ahles, C. R. Bell. 1968. Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. University of North Carolina Press. Chapel Hill

1 comment:

Rurality said...

Thanks, I didn't know all those facts about supplejack! It is one of my favorite plant names, though. :)

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