Today’s Puzzler: Ah Nuts

IMG_0693BeechNuts480These spiny things are all over our forest trail. Together with a mother-lode of hickory nuts, they carpet the forest floor. It is, as they say, a heavy mast year–which the old timers says look out for a doozy of a winter to come.

questionMark180And the squirrels and chipmunks (and maybe turkey, ground hog, and others) will be harvesting the three-sided nuts for the winter soon to come. (You can see two nuts at 1:00 and 3:00 but out of focus.)

So what tree do these fruits come from? Have you seen them before? Are the nuts edible (not meaning you can chew and swallow and not puke or die) but “are they worth snacking on as you walk your walk?”

Nuts are some 1600 to the pound. They have to be separated from the spiny covering that will contain 2 to 4 nuts. Each nut then needs to be released from the seed case by the use of dexterous fingernails. They will be somewhat toxic until roasted.

So how hungry are you and what is it you’re about to eat?

Go here to find out.


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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. Many thanks, Richard, I can see you admire this tree as much as we do.

    I have written about beech’s ability to hold on to their leaves through winter until they are almost transparent–a phenomenon referred to as “marcescence” which is a lovely word in its own right.

    I see you’ve been at your task of celebrating nature for some while. I’m well into my 14th year at Fragments. Where do the seasons go?

  2. I remember gathering beech nuts with my parents. When i later realized how much work it must have taken to fill a jar in the cupboard, i was much more impressed!