I have been going on the drive since I was a child. I used to go every year with my grandparents. Grandpa (Max Simmons) always bought two items each year: sorghum syrup and a birdhouse. I hope to find a birdhouse this year to continue that tradition.
Hedgeballs have been sold on the drive as long as I can remember. They come from the osage-orange tree (Maclura pomifera) and are also called hedge-apples. These trees used to be planted as hedgerows in the plain states. The wood is very useful for fence posts, bow-wood, and rustic furniture. The wood is amazingly rot resistant and contains about 1 percent of a natural occurring chemical that is toxic to a number of fungi.
Bittersweet is also commonly available on the drive. The beautiful yellow-orange and red fruit is the fruit of the American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), which is a twining, woody vine. This plant can become quite a vigorous climber and choke out other plants. It is dioecious, meaning it has both male and female plants and both are needed for fruit to develop. Please be sure not to plant the invasive Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)!
Grapevine craft is found in many different shapes and sizes. Grapevines (Vitis sp.) are readily available from backyards or native growths. Cultivated grapes provide ample vines for cutting since annual pruning is a required to produce good fruit. Wild grapevines can get quite large in our woods. You might have noticed though that wild grapes often do not set fruits. This is because some wild grapes produce male and female flowers on separate plants (like the bittersweet). Most of our cultivated grapes have both male and female flower parts on the same flower so a single plant will fruit.
Occasionally I see lotus pods for sale on the drive. These come from the American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea), which is an aquatic plant. The unusual nutlike seedheads have been described as a small watering-can rose. The plant is also called yockernut, duck acorn, water nut, and rattlenut because the nutlike seeds rattle in its strange structure. This water lily has large, umbrella-like round leaves and large, showy yellow flowers. Springlake in Mason County and Emiquon in Fulton County have many of these.
Enjoy the Scenic Spoon River Drive this weekend. Take a moment to marvel at how important plants are to the drive. They certainly provide the scenic fall colors, but also are a key component of many arts and crafts.