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The Scent of Locusts June 5 09

When youíre this close to a clump of locust blossoms, itís a given that you can smell them. The fragrance comes with the viewóand thatís a good thing, I think youíll agree. The heady scent of black locusts is a part of their considerable beauty, and one of the delights of the Michigan countryside this time of year.

In late May and early June, all across the state, groves of locust trees step out of hiding and array themselves in lavish festoons of white blossoms. The locust isnít exactly a flamboyant tree, just one that attracts attention. Any other time of year, its beauty is subdued, the knobbly branches and delicate, ladder-like braids of compound leaves melding unremarkably into the green texture of the landscape. But now, in this lush season of rings and weddings, is the time when the black locust stands resplendent, like a shy maiden who, donning her wedding gown, is transformed into a stunning, richly perfumed bride.

Drive down any country road and chances are good that youíll encounter the black locust. Here is a cluster of trees overarching the way ahead of you on either side. Yonder stands a solitary giant clad in white. In the distance, a grove on the edge of a pasture shines in the slanting sun. Its amazing how a tree one rarely notices for eleven months of the year suddenly seems to be everywhere.

Yet itís the smell of the black locust that I find particularly captivating. There have been times when Iíve found myself tooling down the road with my car windows down, not paying any particular attention to my surroundings, when suddenly an intoxicating fragrance has filled the air. Itís a scent thatís impossible to ignore, oróonce a person has experienced itóto forget. Instantly Iíve snapped to attention and, sure enough, found myself passing through a cluster of locust trees conducting a seminar on the sense of smell.

Okay, riddle time: how is the black locust related to your supper time? Answer: itís a member of the pea family. Thatís rightóthat fifty-foot-tall tree decked with white flowers growing by the woods edge is related to those jolly little green peas you pile onto your dinner plate. Just compare the flowers and seed pods of the one to with the other and youíll see the resemblance. Not that youíd want to shell out the long, brown pods of the black locust, cook the beans, and eat them. The pea family is a huge family with a lot of members, and not all of them are edible. Some are in fact toxic, the black locust being a case in point. So please refrain from any ideas of including it in your table fare.

But definitely take time to enjoy the beneficence that this tree has to offer your visual and olfactory senses. Now is the time. Out there, where the road winds over the next hill and the late afternoon sun gilds the landscape, one sniff is all you need to remind you that the locusts are in bloom.

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Written by Dave.