Gardens of the Cross Timbers: It's complicated

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Invasive Japanese Multiflora Rose bush

Something was up with the hickory. Some of the leaf surfaces had round red/orange shiny circles. Hanging off the edge or underneath the leaves were small ivory colored vases with fluted tops. The distinctive globes resembled the blossoms now appearing on Persimmon trees—tiny blond balloons with frilly tops. In appearance only, since the hickory was not blooming but hosting an orgy of galls.

Perplexing. The hickory phylloxeran (Phylloxera caryaecaulis) is an aphid relative that overwintered as an egg on the bark. Its moth parents mated in the fall and there is where the female laid her eggs. In early spring the eggs hatched and hungry nymphs made their way to the leaves, pierced the blades with their sharp needle-like lips and suck leaf juices. Those nymphs persuaded the hickory, through chemical manipulation, to form globes around themselves. Safely protected, the nymphs developed into mature females that laid eggs inside the gall. Without the help of any male (parthenogenesis), the eggs hatched into larvae which morphed into male and female moths. The galls split open late May and released the broods to fly, cavort, have the time of their lives and then go bye-bye, leaving only the orphan eggs to survive until next year. Who thought of this life cycle? It’s complicated.

Confusing. Bordering the lake road are the most striking blooms. The Carolina rose has taken center stage. The quiet unobtrusive plant spends its days rambling along sides of ditches, in pastures and edges of woods blending into the background. During the spring this old-fashioned wild rose comes alive. Covered with vibrant blushing flowers, each with five petals around a center full of yellow styles and stamens, the rose attracts admiration. Not far away hugging the fence is the taller Japanese rose, but with groups of white blooms. Each flower, thought smaller, also has five petals and yellow middle. The single pink Carolina rose (Rosa carolina) versus the many flowered white Japanese rose (Rosa multiflora).

Rosa multiflora comes from Eastern China, Korea and Japan. In the late 1700’s rose hips arrived in wildlife food and by 1866 the perennial was used as rootstock in rose breeding programs. This insidious invasive was touted as wonderful for erosion control, use in natural barriers and wildlife cover. Our own better suited native alternatives were not even considered.

Multiple prickly stems reaching lengths up to 15 feet host dozens of fragrant white, sometimes deceivingly pink, flowers which later form red rose hips (fruits) full of Vitamin C and seeds. These plants are highly aggressive and have knocked out native roses in many areas. Maps plot the takeover of the opportunistic rose in the eastern US and Canada as well as the western US coast. Only the Rocky Mountain states don’t consider it a problem…..yet. To identify the multiflora rose, look at the base of one compound leaf (3 to 9 leaflets) similar to other roses. If there are small leaves with many slender bristly teeth, you are holding the noxious pest.

The native Carolina or pasture rose is more compact; the stems protected by hooked prickles, can rise up to six feet. In May, the scented pink flowers only occur in singles and less often as pairs or triplets. Moths, especially the Apple Sphinx moth, feed on leaves. Other insects, especially native small bees and bumble bees, go wild for the nectar and pollen. Cardinals, cedar waxwings, thrushes and other birds cherish the fruit. The traitors also eat multiflora rose hips.

Carolina roses exhibit good resistance to many diseases and slowly grow in the eastern half of the US. They are fighting a mighty battle. Go see for yourself. Drive around and look at the wild fence roses. How many have clusters of white flowers versus single pinks? Nevertheless, each rose species has a lovely fragrance. It’s complicated.

Mysterious. What was the animal on top of the giant hay ball at the top of the hill? As I walked past the redcedars toward the rows of hay bales, I saw a very tall dog/coyote easily jump to the top of the last bale and stretch. It then sat on its haunches and stared directly north. I turned and quickly went the other direction, wondering if this agile animal was a strange dog suffering from mange or an extremely large, slender, short-haired coyote with a long thin tail. It was the right color for a coyote, and the head and ears fit the coyote description, but the rest of the body, well……

Years ago, two miles to the south, I spotted another animal quite similar to this one but smaller. It was keeping company with a real authentic coyote. I remember the two of them running from the edge of the pond into the overgrown field where they disappeared.

Weird coyote mixtures have been seen in the southern states, Mexico, South America and Puerto Rico. Chupacabra is the official name for a mythological dog animal that supposedly sucks blood or attacks livestock. Cryptozoologists have championed the Chupacabra, delving into folklore for information and going to places where these animals have been seen. Big Foot is also on their radar, so perhaps they saw a Chupacabra during one of their searches in Oklahoma.

On the other hand, it could be a Coydog or Dogote. This hybrid between the coyote and dog is infrequent because of the difference in breeding seasons between coyotes and dogs. Humans in North and South America have intentionally bred dogs with wolves or coyotes for thousands of years. The 1980’s Illinois survey of coyotes revealed up to 15% were actually coyote hybrids.

The rancher who owned the land where I saw the coydog had posted “Traps” signs on the gates. The article in the May 2017 Scientific American “Why Killing Coyotes Doesn’t Make Livestock Safer” by Megan Draheim reaffirms lethal control (using traps to poisons) kills far more than coyotes, making things much worse. In the resulting vacuum, pack animals produce more offspring to offset the loss. Cultural attitudes need to shift to options which minimize losses but not unbalance and destroy nature.

Coyotes usually eat snakes, bugs and rodents. Translated: keep the bunnies and rats in check without using poisons. Coyotes are quite wary of humans. To hear the coyote yip and howl at night reminds me wildlife still run free. They are a part of nature and deserve a place to live where their ancestors did. My critter might have been a coydog, possibly with mange. Best guess is one parent was a large sleek dog. Human interference again and again. It’s complicated.

Dale Carnegie had a saying: “One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.”

Stop and smell the roses! It’s simple.

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at