This underfished water body has been loaded with speckled trout this summer.
Louisiana Trees and Shrubs, Louisiana Forestry Commission Bulletin No. 1, was written by Clair A. Brown, professor of botany at Louisiana State University, and was published in 1945. This publication was one of the first to have illustrations that would aid the reader in the identification of the common trees and shrubs that grow in the state.
One of these trees, black cherry is a tree that is found throughout the state. Black cherry is a commercial timber variety used primarily for making furniture. In addition to that, it has a high wildlife value; deer will browse the leaves and stems as well as eat the black juicy fruit, and it is a favorite fruit of many songbirds.
At a recent deer management workshop, LDWF was showing the participants how they examine stomachs to determine what food items deer are eating, and one stomach contained black cherry fruit.
The fruit is produced in the spring and early summer. The white flower clusters are referred to as racemes, and develop along the stem. A single tree can produce much fruit (4,800 seeds per pound), and readily receives attention from our feathered friends.
Several years ago, we removed a dead water oak from our yard in Baton Rouge. A black cherry tree had started growing by it, so I made sure the tree crew did not damage it.
It is now the focal tree in that part of the yard, and is over 20 feet tall. It started producing fruit when it was 4 years old, and is loaded with fruit this year. Mockingbirds aggressively defend the tree from other birds that try to partake of its bounty. The tree is large enough that crows can land and sit on the branches, much to the displeasure of the mockingbirds.
In his book, Brown points out that the fruit is used to make cherry bounce, a drink made from cherries and whiskey. There are many different recipes for cherry bounce, and the one referred to as Grandmother’s Recipe requires one gallon of wild black cherries. Now I am not into making cherry bounce, but I do know some people who are. No doubt the fruit could be used also to make black cherry jelly also.
The fruit of black cherry is considered to be a soft-mast fruit. Hard mast is the fruit of oaks, pecans and hickories. Soft mast is an important component of wildlife habitat. The soft-mast fruit produced by trees and shrubs in the spring and summer are a source of energy for deer and other wildlife species.
Now is the time to be taking stock of the soft-mast trees and shrubs that occur on your land or lease. The fruit that is produced in the spring and summer are not of benefit for hunting. Their primary benefit is from deer growth and development, as well as keeping deer in and around your property.
If there are a sufficient number of soft-mast tree species producing fruit, you have a good chance of the deer establishing your land as part of the core area of their home range.
Now would be the time to also locate those soft-mast species that produce fruit in late summer and fall, close to the time that hunting season opens.
The soft-mast trees and plants that produce fruit in the spring or early summer would include black cherry, plum, red mulberry, mayhaw, blackberry and dewberry. Soft-mast-producing trees and plants for late summer and fall would include crabapple, persimmon, pear, American beauty berry and wild muscadine.
If you are not familiar with these trees, shrubs and vines, there is plenty of literature available to help you. The deer food plant book available from LDWF is a good place to start. There are also field guides available at book stores that will aid in identification of these plants.
One aspect of my management work is to incorporate these soft-mast trees and shrubs into our food-plot program. Some tree species are planted in an orchard-type setting within the food plot, while some trees are just planted along the edges of openings and rights-of-way.
Black cherry can readily be purchased at nurseries, but seedlings can usually be found in areas where the larger trees are located and are producing fruit. I am constantly potting seedlings that I dig up from the beds around my house as a result of birds dispersing them in their droppings. Mayhaws can also be purchased from nurseries along with crabapples and pears.
The Department of Agriculture and Forestry has seedling sales in the fall, and most of these soft-mast species can be obtained from them. The phone number for the seedling sales office is 225-925-4515. There are also some out-of-state nurseries that specialize in persimmons and pears for wildlife plantings.
Now, however, is not the time to be planting trees (unless you have a way to water them). Tree planting is generally done during the winter months, allowing time for the roots to become established in the soil and prior to new growth beginning.
It is probably better to plant container-type trees if you are just establishing them in food plots; consequently, if you are purchasing seedling trees, it may be better to pot them and grow them for a year. Container trees can become root-bound so it is important to move them up into a larger pot if you grow them for more than a year.
It is also important to protect the trees from wildlife damage; deer and rabbits can do a lot of damage with their feeding activity. Trees also need to be protected from bucks that may rub on the young saplings. Tree tubes or wire cages can be used to protect the young trees.
It may take several years for the trees to begin producing fruit, so keep this in mind also. Plants that are in the rose family such as black cherry, mayhaw and crabapples generally start producing fruit in five years.
While right now it is quite hot outside, a little survey work on your property to locate and determine what soft-mast species are available, or are lacking, may pay good dividends as you move forward with a program that will add plant diversity to your habitat, and perhaps some cherry bounce for your evenings.