by Carole Cloudwalker
I suspect I have a brilliant botanically-inclined neighbor, though I do not know his name.
He seems to have developed the perfect species of tree to grace Wyoming landscapes.
Yes, it’s true. Well, sort of true.
Two of the new tree species - we might call them “Wapiti Metalus Metalica” - have sprung up on either side of my neighbor’s driveway, right beside US 14-16-20.
The trees are a perfect fit for this climate because, unlike the dreaded Russian olives (which I always kind of admired, until the state and the Park County Weed and Pest Department told me to hate them, which I now duly do), they require no water.
Nope. Not a drop.
In fact, water could eventually destroy them, though it would take a long time.
Russian olive trees, in contrast, are said to suck the land dry of water starting deep underground where their too-thirsty roots dwell. For that reason they cause other species to shrivel up and die of thirst.
Wapiti Metalus Metalica is a species that despises water. They are sort of like those “air ferns” you see in stores, the ones you suspect are not real.
That’s only because they aren’t.
Air ferns, or “Neptune plants,” are made from a species of marine animals called “Sertularia argentea.” (This is a highly scientific column you are reading. You may even be able to spell “p-h-y-l-u-m” when you are finished. Better yet, I may be able to.)
These so-called ferns are dead and dried colonies of hydrozoans, marine hydroids that are related to corals and jellyfish.
Despite a superficial resemblance to plants, they really are animal skeletons or shells. The dried colonies are often dyed green but, when soaked in water, the coloring dissolves.
Most commercially-sold air ferns are collected as a by-product by trawlers in the North Sea.
Not so with Metalus Metalica, which are not collected at all, but appear to be manufactured by my brilliant neighbor.
Ha. And you thought only God could make a tree.
Metalus Metalica trees appear to be either cast of metal or welded together from bits of metal. But they strongly resemble deciduous trees denuded of their summer finery, namely, foliage.
Why, you ask, would anyone wish to decorate his property with metal outcroppings that look like dead trees?
I submit that the neighbor, come spring, may spruce up his trees with fake leaves. Possibly he already has several sets of leaves, starting small in pale green, to be replaced in high summer with dark green leaves. These leaves could all be made of metal.
For fall, perhaps he will hang up some yellow, orange and brown leaves and take down the summery green ones.
Of course, fall could be a risky time if you are standing under a Wapiti Metalus Metalica with leaves made of metal. Ouch.
Plus, the leaves could be a real challenge to rake into piles, though that kind of pile would rapidly teach children and playful pets not to mess with your leaves.
In any case, if he has these sets of leaves, my neighbor could have a whole year’s worth of tree enjoyment without expending a single drop of water.
Birds still could nest on these trees, though the bark could have a bite in hot summer sun. And I would love to be there when the first Evil Flicker attempts to drill into those tree trunks.
Please do not tell Jack Hammer - my personal flicker bird arch enemy who made a big hole in my cedar siding - anything about this new tree species.
It’s all birdie beware and every bird for himself out there in the big, wide Wapiti world.
And now it could even be a case of bye bye birdie.
Originally Published in The Cody Enterprise. February 24, 2010.