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Filed under Outdoor Notes

December 24, 2010

After several days of gray cheerlessness, I thought it might be nice to offer up something cheerful for the senses, a little color, a little sweetness, a little warmth.

Locust conk

Locust conk

This is a Locust Conk. The scientific name is either Fomes rimosus or Phellinus rimosus or Phellinus robiniaea, depending on what book you’re reading or whom you’re speaking with (so much for all that bushwa about learning scientific names because it’s less confusing than all those different names employed by we commoners). The green on the top is algae, and a sprinkling of lichen–the conks last a long time.

Okay, Locust Conks are hardly the prettiest of our native fungi. Still, winter is a great time to see them—they look a lot like other conks, but they only grow on Black Locusts (Robinia pseudoacacia).

Black Locust bloom

Black Locust bloom

And the springtime blossoms of the Black Locust are one of the great odors of the year. The flower is easy on the eyes. Bees love them, and you can often hear the soothing hum of the bees from quite a distance.

“Black Locust Honey” is light in color and texture, and it is highly prized amongst aficionados of bee barf.

I recently bought some firewood from a good friend’s son. Much of it is Black Locust—a great bargain, as it burns slow and very hot—26.8 million btu’s per cord, which is hotter than white or red oak. Only Hickory provides more heat among our common eastern trees of any size (Osage Orange burns hotter, but it is seldom very large).

Locust is tough—that’s why folks used to use it for fence posts. In fact, it is so tough that it was imported from the Eastern U.S. to California for use propping up gold mines. Today the tree is well established in the West.

While the young man was stacking it in my pickup, I asked him how he split it.

“Split it by hand; splitter’s too expensive.”

I gave him a little extra.

Now for a little color.

Locust Borer Beetle on Goldenrod

Locust Borer Beetle on Goldenrod

Black Locust is susceptible to borers, specifically, Locust Borers (Megacyllene robiniae). This is a handsome critter, velvety black with bright yellow markings. They can be fairly common on Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) in the fall. The adults emerge in midsummer and seek out wounds on Black Locusts to lay their eggs. The larvae hatch out and burrow into the tree, where they can do enough damage to cause branches and stems to snap off.

So there you go, a midwinter feast for the senses. Head out into the cold fields until you see a woody conk sticking out of a locust tree. Then close your eyes and imagine the sweet smell of locust blossom, the sweet taste of Black Locust honey, the feel of a good wood fire, the hum of bees, and a bright black and yellow beetle feeding in Goldenrod.

My gift to you—Merry Christmas.

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