A plant now putting on a bizarre fall display at Camp Salmen is the French Mulberry (Callicarpa Americana), also known as the American Beautyberry. It grows several round clumps of purple-lavender colored berries stacked “Dr. Seuss style” up and down its stalks.
Raccoons love the berries. Last fall we watched a large ‘coon clumsily climb onto one of these plants to nosh on them. He was oblivious to our presence, probably because he was preoccupied by their wholesome goodness.
I learned the berries were safe for humans, tried some and concluded there was not much to recommend them. However, I suppose if you lived outside all the time, were covered in fur, had no income and couldn’t get to a store, you’d resort to such a thing. Indeed, since the berries occur in great quantities in the park all sorts of other mammals and birds also take advantage of this bounty.
Apparently, my trying some of these berries was not too far off base; the longer they stay on the plant, supposedly the sweeter they become. People who wait for them to be at their peak use them to make jellies, wine and pies. If consumed in large enough quantities they also have a laxative effect, so beware, not too many pies at once! Also, the leaves of the plant have an insect repellant quality and folks have been known to stuff them in their clothing to enjoy this effect. Imagine the sight.
As an aside, another mulberry, the one from the Morus species, was once important to St. Tammany’s extinct silk industry. Yes, that’s right; Mulberry Grove Plantation just north of Covington was planted in the 1830s as a home for the silkworms that favored the leaves of this plant. Silk production from this caterpillar’s cocoons was originally an ancient Chinese technology, one that caused Marco Pollo and other adventurous Europeans to travel great distances in the 1300s to bring back this luxuriant textile. The colonial French brought the trees and the “worms” to Louisiana as they cast about for ways to make money from their new colony. The enterprise did not last but the place name and the trees remain.