Gazings of a Geezer

by Don Luepke

Age is certainly defined by a number. Considering that, I must admit that I am old. My years identify with that address on “Sunset Strip” (you probably have to be a “senior” to understand that). And even though I am of “geezer age” I thoroughly enjoy being out in the natural environment, walking slowly and observing the Creator’s Touch in everything around me.

Early this last May I was hiking through the Brennan Woods area of the Clear Lake Nature Preserve seeking out some spring ephemerals Not many were visible at that point in time but did notice something colorful on a shrub atop a ridge not too far away. I left the trail and climbed up the incline to get a closer look.

I found just one sort of purple “bud bloom” on one of the branches.

Red elderberry flower bud

When I got back home and checked some plant ID resources, I did not find an answer. Several weeks later I was again in Brennan Woods and this time I again sighted the bush but now there were many blooms but they were in a cream color.

Red elderberry in flower

This time I posted the photos to the Facebook page of the Indiana Native Plant Society requesting an identification. There were two responses but neither seemed reasonable. What is a geezer to do? Ah, check with the experts. And so a quick email to Nate Simons and Fred Wooley; they surely would know what this is. Within a short time answers came back from both. I had found a rather rare plant for this area, the red elderberry, or Sambucus pubens.

How ironic I thought; of all the plants to find, the old geezer came across an ELDERberry!

Charles Deam in a 1932 edition of Shurbs of Indiana shows the following illustration of the plant:

He reports that “the distribution of this species is strictly confined to the lake area of the state. It is usually found in bogs, boggy places, wet woods and rarely in dry situations.” (This is the situation in Brennan Woods). “It is infrequent to rare” even in the lake counties. Finding it here in our section of the state is a tribute to sound management of natural resources. “Roses” to the Clear Lake Township Land Conservancy for preserving this special area.

I recently went back to see if the fruit was set. Actually I was a bit late as most of the berries were already eaten or had dropped off. But it was fascinating to observe a small segment of this elderberry life journey.

Oh, there is another incriminating bit of evidence of my age. I was not the first to “discover” this plant. Actually Fred Wooley saw it well over a year ago and even wrote briefly about it in the May 2019 issue of Rustling Grass. He had made two discoveries on his day at Brennan – the red elderberry and the prothonotary warbler. I even remember reading the article but I guessed focused more on the beautiful yellow songbird rather than the plant. My memory does seem to have its limitations.

Red elderberry with immature fruit
Oops! Somebody ate the fruit.

And so even though the years keep piling up in this body I have been given, I shall always take time to walk in the woods – to look, to listen, to touch, to smell, perhaps even to taste – to explore the boundaries of all that our Father has created. There are always new and wondrous things to be discovered as I live out a personal life mantra of “Always a Student!” This Geezer will keep on gazing.

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