The Land Of Cottonwood And Cat Brier

While hiking home from the river last week, I took a little time to search for places to easily harvest cat brier for Emma and Ronnie deer. I have worked hard this year to forage for greens and browse so that their eating experience would be similar to that of fawns in the wild. Gathering acorns has come to an end since the nuts have fallen from the cupules and are now lying in the tall grasses. I am certainly a dedicated deer mother, but I will not crawl around on the ground stirring up insects to look for acorns! So, as a treat for Emma and Ronnie, cat brier will have to do.

With the warm weather continuing into October and November, there are still Siberian elm trees with plenty of green leaves and I have been cutting larger limbs now that Emma and Ronnie are eating more. The state biologist who had come to visit soon after we purchased the pecan orchard, advised us to cut down the Siberian elms because they could become invasive and compete with the pecan trees. It has been a win-win situation for me to utilize them for the deer while also eradicating them from the orchard area.

I saw this comical scene as I pulled up to cross the electric fence in the pecan orchard.
I saw this comical scene as I pulled up to cross the electric fence in the pecan orchard.
Oh my! Look at the intensity in those eyes!
Oh my! Look at the intensity in those eyes! That newly planted rye grass on the other side must be worth the risk!
Every morning I must guard myself from mosquitoes and buffalo gnats. This is the best natural product I have found. It has a nice herb smell to it, and Daisy, Emma and Ronnie love it, so it's deer approved! I cut my hair short this summer and did not realize how my longer hair protected my ears and neck from insects! I won't be growing my hair back though... I love the ease and no fuss of short hair. So, this insect repellent will be a mainstay.
Every morning I must guard myself from mosquitoes and buffalo gnats. This is the best natural product I have found. It has a nice herb scent to it, and Daisy, Emma and Ronnie love it, so it’s deer approved! I cut my hair short this summer and did not realize how my longer hair protected my ears and neck from insects! I won’t be growing my hair back though… I love the ease and no-fuss of short hair. So, this insect repellent will be a mainstay.

Cat brier can still be found with the change of season, but often the cascades of vine reach high up in the trees. And, because cat brier vine is terribly thorny, it is not pleasant to harvest. The old part of the vine closest to the ground can be a tough, thick stem with large barb-type thorns, or it might be a more pliable stem with lots of prickly, needle thin spikes. The newer leaves at the end of the cascade high in the trees, however, are thorn-less, and that is always what I hope to find.

This cascade of Cat Brier was high in a tree - this is a preferable scenario. The vine is straight up and not tangled and wrapped in lower branches. The only drawback is I must tug and pull gently so I do not rip leaves loose from the vine. Sometimes it takes a lot of strength to dismantle it from the tree.
This cascade of Cat Brier was high in a tree – this is a preferable scenario. The vine is straight up and not tangled and wrapped in lower branches. The only drawback is I must tug and pull gently so I do not rip leaves loose from the vine. Sometimes it takes a lot of strength to dismantle it from the tree.
This is another good scenario for cutting brier. I won't have to pull much with the vine growing so low in a tree, but the leaves are a bit bigger here and the stem will have more spikes and thorns.
This is another good scenario for cutting brier. I won’t have to pull much with the vine growing so low in a tree, but the leaves are a bit bigger here and the stem will have more spikes and thorns.
This is one of the worse scenarios for fetching cat brier. These are very small vines which do not have many thorns, but the vine is so intertwined into the tree that it's nearly impossible to extract without losing many leaves. Still, the state biologist suggested cutting these type of vine so that new growth is closer to the ground for the deer to feast on. It does no good for the plant to grow up in the tree where deer cannot benefit from it.
This is one of the worse scenarios for fetching cat brier. These are very small vines which do not have many thorns, but the vine is so intertwined into the tree limbs that it’s nearly impossible to extract without losing many of the leaves. Still, the state biologist suggested cutting these type of vine so that new growth is closer to the ground for the deer to feast on. It does no good for the plant to grow up in the tree where deer cannot reach it.
I discovered this clever home while pulling cat brier from a tree. It smelled a bit like skunk so I quickly removed my brier loot and respectfully left the area!
I discovered this clever home while pulling cat brier from a tree. It smelled a bit like skunk so I quickly removed my brier loot and respectfully left the area!
A large Cottonwood Tree stands near the place where I cross the barbed wire fencing into the old river channel.
A large Cottonwood Tree stands near the place where I cross the barbed wire fencing into the old river channel. I wonder if that is a bird or squirrel nest at the upper right hand corner of the image?
A carpet of fallen leaves greets me as I cross the barbed wire fence. This is the easiest place to cross the property line. This area is an oasis of sorts, but can be a tangle of wild vine and fallen limbs. I never come here in the summer months because of snakes... but it is a favorite area to explore in autumn and winter.
A carpet of fallen leaves greets me as I cross the barbed wire fence. This is the easiest place to cross the property line. This area is an oasis of sorts, but can be a tangle of wild vine and fallen limbs. I never come here in the summer months because of snakes… but it is a favorite area to explore in autumn and winter.

So on my hike home, I was pleasantly surprised to find many clusters of cat brier near a place I call “The Land of the Cottonwoods”, an area along the old river channel where there are many beautiful, old cottonwoods. One in particular, is as big around as many of our largest pecan trees. As I crossed the fence to the old river channel, I found even more cat brier, but some of it was surrounded by tall poison ivy plants, and other vines were so entwined in the trees that it would be impossible to harvest. Still, there were many places lower to the ground where I could cut shorter vine. It would not be as easy as taking a long cascade of vine, but it would do. Emma and Ronnie could probably care less if the tasty leaves came from a long or a short vine!

Cottonwood trees spring up everywhere along the river channel. This is a view towards the main river channel. A lone Cottonwood stands in the middle of a field.
Cottonwood trees spring up everywhere along the river channel. This is a view towards the main river channel. A lone Cottonwood stands in the middle of a field.
This is the area of the old river channel where the state biologist stated deer would be likely to bed down and keep watch over the area. With ample shade, breeze moving through, cover nearby, and a water source, it provided a nice place to hang out in the hot summer months.
This is the area of the old river channel where the state biologist stated deer would be likely to bed down and keep watch over the area. With ample shade, breeze moving through, cover nearby, and a water source, it provided a nice place to hang out in the hot summer months.
I found a fresh hoof print in the soft earth down along the old river channel. You can see a small leaf in the impression. This might be missed by anyone else but I was specifically looking for signs of deer this morning.
I found a fresh hoof print in the soft earth down along the old river channel. You can see a small leaf in the impression. This might be missed by anyone else but I was specifically looking for signs of deer this morning.
This time of year spiders can be found just about everywhere along the old river channel.
This time of year spiders can be found just about everywhere along the old river channel.
The old river channel is very shallow this time of year, but it still provides a good water source for wildlife.
The old river channel is very shallow this time of year, but it still provides a good water source for wildlife.
This is the area along the old river channel dike where I cut elm every morning. The Siberian elm tree grove is on the left.
This is the area along the old river channel dike where I cut elm every morning. The Siberian elm tree grove is on the right.

This morning as I traveled to the west end of the property hoping to spot Daisy and her friends, I thought about how my fingers ached from being stabbed and pricked while cutting cat brier along the way. Despite wearing good leather gloves, the thorns and spikes penetrated into my hands and often gouged through the sleeves of my shirt. And, countless times, I had not paid attention to the brier lower to the ground and found myself tangled up at the feet, with stinging barbs penetrating my jeans and slashing at my legs.  Like many wild plants, the thorns and spikes carry a toxin that burns for a while. For an hour or so, I would feel the effects of my morning foraging, whereas a real mother deer would have hair and a tough hide to protect her! But I had happily located another nice cascade of brier and cut only half of what I’d pulled down, saving the rest for tomorrow. I used my small, battery-powered chainsaw to cut a limb of Siberian elm from a tree and loaded it on the back of the buggy. Not seeing anything more of interest at the west end, I journeyed on in the electric buggy to the biggest cottonwood tree on the property. There, I exited my ride and climbed over the barbed-wire fence to the old river channel to sit near the water’s edge for a long while. This was my meditative time with nature. As I sat in solitude, an owl swooped low along the waterway, while little chickadees chirped happily nearby. Tiny frogs squealed and sprang into the water. I watched leaves fall gently. This was a lovely place. No wonder I had seen Daisy deer jump the fence to this very area so many times. It was a haven of greens, browse and water. And it was shady, quiet, and cool.

I found the fallen leaves on water quite beautiful this morning.
I found the fallen leaves on water quite beautiful this morning.

I did not want to leave this special place, but there was much to do at home. Emma and Ronnie would be waiting to see the buggy emerge from the woods with a load of fresh eats! There would be other days to visit the old river channel – for I will be foraging for another couple of months, or as long as the brier is still green and growing. By that time, I will know the Land of Cottonwood and Cat Brier like the back of my scratched and sometimes bleeding hands…

© 2016 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…


31 thoughts on “The Land Of Cottonwood And Cat Brier

    1. Thank you, Karen. Today I picked a few woodland leaves from plants I had seen Daisy graze on. I also pulled some dandelion and clover. Emma and Ronnie loved it. I know it will become more difficult in winter, but so far the weather has been mild and I have managed to find plenty of good eats. In two months, they will be on their own to discover what the woods and pecan orchard (and beyond) have to offer!

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    1. We’ve had some foggy and damp mornings and that spider’s web was like a chandelier in the morning light! Emma’s jaw will never be quite right. It doesn’t close all of the way. But, she’s eating well and she seems to manage nibbling with the other side of her mouth just fine. I’m still a little concerned as she seems slower than she did before. I don’t know if she might have effects from a concussion or if she suffered some damage. Ronnie is doing very well.

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        1. That’s what I’m thinking Tom. I wonder if she’s very cautious and she still may be healing. She manages to kick up her hooves and plays with Ronnie every so often, just not as hard of a player. I also remember when we had injured Holly deer who was hit by a truck. Her superficial wounds took a while to heal, but she took even longer to be alert and her fear of humans to return. It was as if she was dull and in a fog for weeks. By the time she was released she was so fearful of us that we had a terrible time getting her out of the pen. It was a good thing… she was returning to her wild ways. 🙂

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  1. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen cat brier here in Ohio. I’ll have to keep my eyes open and see if I can identify any of it.

    As for that nest up in the tree…it looks pretty big, even for a squirrel’s nest. But if it’s a bird’s nest, I’d guess some kind of hawk. Sometimes if you pay attention to the materials that the nest is made of and the construction method, you can identify which bird it belongs to. Well, SOME people can—not me, lol.

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    1. I do not think it’s a squirrel nest either. It’s too elongated. Usually, squirrel’s summer leaf nests are more rounded. I will take a binoculars next trip out and see if I can tell what it is. We have a lot of hawks around so that makes sense. Thanks for the tip, Kim!!

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  2. Cow antics sure can bring a smile.
    I’ve pulled and chopped many a vine, but what a trial it mut be to do it gently so as not to lose the leaves!
    The critters are moving – we had a teenage possum curl up and sleep the day in one of the fence/trellis vines. Molly was enthralled. Such benign creatures, but wish this one moves on…Molly somehow manages to find the poop and roll in it before I can stop her – takes more than one serious round of shampoo to clean that smell.
    It is the best time of year. Hard work, a little sun, and caring for the land – can’t ask for much more rewarding time ( even with the briar scratches)

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    1. Oh no! A poop roller!! Ha ha! Zoe was my poop roller. She could always find the nastiest scat and luxuriate in it.
      Yes, it’s that time where everything begins to think about holing up for the winter. As soon as the mosquitoes and gnats are gone, I will be in the orchard cutting back honey locust trees and treating the stumps. There are cockle burrs to gather and burn. Lots of cleaning up of fallen timber to clear as well. I do love working in the woods.
      We just felt an earthquake about 40 minutes ago. Never a dull moment around here! 🙂

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      1. Whew. Glad to see your note – we saw the earthquake news. Ducks overhead early this morning and late yesterday circling for a night on the lake. They way winter-ish is coming maybe Wed. here. Meanwhile clouds and periodic storms….so the cat said we might as well get up and feed her on time, slacker staff.
        Working in the woods this time of year is a bit like neatening up/combing the hair of an energetic , but growing sleepy child. No much nicer. Enjoy!

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        1. It will be an enjoyable winter as long as I can work during dry spells. I’ve been seeing geese and sandhill cranes making their way south. Their travel should be picking up soon, with lots of sightings this time of year.

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    1. You have observed something important here, Margaret. Foraging has been a way for me to relieve stress and to learn even more about the woodlands. It has also allowed me to have better insight about the coyotes and their activity. And now the deer (I saw a few lately on our property!) have returned. All of these things I take in about the land and the birds and mammals is more education of our ecosystem.
      It’s those delicious leaves of the cat brier that deer love. The smaller, tender leaves are the most desirable, but they eat the older, tough ones too. By the next morning, all that is left is the thorny stem. I have noticed they’ll eat the vine itself if there are no thorns or spikes. Deer eat roses too. Leaves, tender stems, and flowers!! Daisy trims my many rose bushes all summer!

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  3. Once again I feel like I’ve accompanied you on your excursion. You are such a dedicated Mom, wonderful to see! The cow pose looks a bit like ‘downward dog’ pose in yoga, maybe we can call it ‘downward cow’ pose 🙂 Best wishes and hugs.

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    1. Ha ha! I thought that cow was hilarious! Such intensity about the rye grass… and maybe it is true that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It would be lovely for you to join me on a walk anywhere, Ardys. 🙂

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    1. Ha ha!! I think if you really were tagging along we’d be making so much noise talking and comparing our lives and discussing the mysteries of nature that we would miss all of the little things along the way!

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  4. Lori, once again you delight me with your post on the common things found in nature! My first encounter with Cat brier was when we moved here to Alabama almost 9 years ago… I reached down, got a good tight grip on it and pulled. Big mistake! I now give it the respect it demands when trying to eradicate it here on the Farmlet. I am loving your spider shot and that brave steer’s efforts to get that grass that is greener on the other side.

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    1. I got tickled about the “yoga pose” comments on those photos. And yes, cat brier takes real skill to get a good cascade of it without getting stabbed or slashed, and keeping it intact without losing all of the yummy leaves! I’m not sure there’s a real need for my cat brier pulling talent. 😦

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