Klingon Devil Pods: Trapa natans

IMG_4349devilpods480And it turns out that the name we gave it– “Devil Pods”– is one of the historically-used “common names” for this plant. It took us a while to finally conclude that it was indeed a plant, since the pods seem to be made of a very hard alien material rather than any botanical matter we’d ever seen.

So had concluded at first that these were actually baby Klingons, dropped at Kingston Point Park along the Hudson. But then I knew that I had seen images of this bizarre thing from the web on Planet Earth, so as we drove towards our next destination (Massawaska State Park) I attempted to ID the six (empty non-viable) pods we brought with us.

And in this I failed. But my friend’s daughter back home that evening googled “Catskills black seed” and it was the first item listed. Go figure: the range extends from Virginia to Canada. And a friend for dinner that night–a kayaker–recognized the pods immediately and with some loathing as “Water Chestnut.” And it has both a good and a bad reputation–the former, back in Asia from which this invasive derived, the latter among those who fancy open surfaces on  waterways.

Also called water caltrop, water chestnut, buffalo nut, bat nut, devil pod, and ling nut, this water-rooted plant can quickly choke waterways.

“Water chestnut was first observed in North America near Concord, Massachusetts in 1859. The exact path for the introduction is unknown. It has been declared a noxious weed in Arizona, Massachusetts, North Carolina and South Carolina and its sale is prohibited in most southern states.

“Water chestnut can grow in any freshwater setting, from intertidal waters to 12 feet deep, although it prefers nutrient-rich lakes and rivers. Presently, the plant is found in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, with most problematic populations occurring in the Connecticut River valley, Lake Champlain region, Hudson River, Potomac River and the upper Delaware River.”

I should mention that we found these botanical land mines on a sandy beach near the volleyball nets. I still think they were dropped on our planet with sinister intent. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Water Chestnut (Trapa natans)

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Hi Fred … just sitting here munching on a peanut butter and jelly Pop tart. Trying to keep the hunger hounds at bay long enough for our dinner and dinner guest(s) to arrive. Maureen went to her hair cutting appointment and will stop at KFC for carry-out bucket and sides.

    I feel you brother blogger. I’m lucky I remembered to add a link to my bookmarks toolbar for my own blog and yours, or I’d be wandering around aimlessly searching for something interesting to do with my time. My memory is shot, my creative juices have dried up and typing has become a tremendous obstacle to my writing. I’ve tried “My Dragon” as a solution, but alas, it has proven to be, not worth the trouble. I can’t seem to think fast enough to put what I’m thinking into spoken words.

    I see I am no longer on your BlogRoll … and that’s a good thing. There’s not much recent activity going on over there anyway. I was never good at public speaking unless I was in “preaching mode.” Who wants to hear a sermon today?

    I’ll be checking on you from time to time. You don’t need to waste your time and effort doing the same for me. I’ll be 75 in October this year. One foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel located on a steep incline or decline, which ever is most proper language usage. I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Love your pictures and videos. Keep them coming. Had cataract surgery on both eyes so I could see better. Now there’s little to look at … anyway.

    See you around the Inter-web buddy. Take care now.