Lighting the hallucinogenic catalpa. [For demonstration purposes only.]
I took a right turn at Bob’s Place, just before the Road Kill Grill, and descended into the Valley of the Green Bird.
Whenever I visit this place, I think of the trilliums that grow here, in abundance, thanks to an anomaly of Appalachian geology. I’ve been told that one hill alone hosts seven different varieties of the flower. Of course, that rainbow of trilliums is hidden underground for the next couple of months.
Here are some things I’ve just learned – trilliums have a symbiotic relationship with ants. The fruit of the trillium matures, splits open, and releases its seeds in late summer. Attached to those seeds are nutritious, lipid-rich elaisomes, especially attractive to ants.
The ants carry the seeds back to their nests, where they eat the elaisomes and discard the seeds intact. Waste disposal sites, enriched by the carcasses of dead ants and ant feces, form fertile seedbeds. The seeds over-winter before germinating. The first year, they develop only a small root; the second year, a rudimentary leaf; a year or two later, a single true leaf. In a couple of more years, the plant produces three leaves and, after another year, the trillium finally flowers. The cycle can take six years or more from seed to flower.
Trilliums aren’t the only evidence of persistence in the valley. The old homesteads and farm fields still look like they belong here.
One of those patches of ground called out to me and I pulled over for a closer look. I could see this land had been farmed for centuries. A large pasture stretched out to the edge of the creek that runs through the middle of this valley. Between the pasture and the road was a garden plot lined by several gnarled apple trees and one cigar tree. Dark slender pods, a foot or longer, hung from all the limbs of that tree better known as the catalpa.
Supposedly, the tree was a totem for the Catawba indians, and it was only due to a transcription error by a botanist that the name "Catalpa," rather than "Catawba" was applied to the tree. To my way of thinking, it’s one of those humble trees that doesn’t get its due respect. With a thick covering of heart-shaped leaves it provides a protected refuge for many species of birds.
If you want to catch catfish, remember this:
The tree is favored by the Catalpa Sphinx moth. The caterpillars of that moth eat the leaves of the catalpa, and are such an excellent live bait for fishing that some dedicated anglers maintain small groves of the trees, just to have a reliable source of "catawba-worms".
Indians smoked the catalpa seed pods for the hallucinogenic effect, which is why the tree became known as the "Indian Cigar Tree." I’d be more than happy to report on anyone else’s experience in this regard. I believe I’ll pass, but I do have a couple of pods for anyone who wants to give it a try.
Tune in. Turn on. Drop out.
Who knows? Maybe the Green Bird will make an encore appearance.