Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

September 20, 2008

Confessions of a Nut Monger

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:05 pm

I have on my desk before me a small package of native goodness, but Iím not sure whether I want to open it or not. It is the nut of an American Hazelnut – dried to perfection and literally falling out of its leafy husk – and I consider it a rare treat.They are not very common around these parts anymore and it has been many years since I last found a nut of this species.

I located a low growing shrub of an American Hazelnut earlier in the year and made a mental note to come back in the autumn to see if it produced any nuts. The plant had several male catkins on it, but no obvious female flowers (the ones that produce the nuts). To make a long story short, I came back and found that the shrub bore exactly two remaining nuts.The fruit of this plant is highly desirable for wildlife and beating the local Red Squirrels, deer, and chipmunks to them is quite an accomplishment. I decided to photograph one and ďharvestĒ the other one.Now, because this native little nut is such a pretty little thing I canít quite bring myself to cracking it open.

Hazelnuts, also known as American Filberts, used to be a very common part of the forested undergrowth.These are shade tolerant plants, but require a good dose of sunlight in order to complete their nutting efforts. They do best in the bright edge environs of our forests but such environs have been reduced and so the plants have been relegated to secret spots and reclusive habits.There certainly is nothing distinctive about the leafy growth habit that would grab your attention (see here).

The nut, however, is a work of art.It is wrapped in between two ragged husks which, in the parlance of botany, are called bracts (see here). Eventually the bracts pull away from each other to reveal a large smooth acorn-like nut inside.The appearance of our American Hazel matches that of the familiar European Hazelnuts which are a†regular part of our Christmas nut mix. Iím pretty sure they crack open the same as the foreign variety and taste equally as good, but I hesitate.

No, Iím going to stare at this thing a bit longer. Iíve already sketched it from several angles and even popped the nut out of its restraints to take a look at it. It represents an American harvest tradition of old Ė a nutty idea to be sure, but thatís it in a nutshell.

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