The Chestnuts Are Falling — and Disappearing

NOTE: This is the 200th post since I began this blog 34 months ago. I continue my nature walks in the park as there is much more to find, to observe, to experience, to research, to photograph, to wonder about, and to admire.

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The chestnut trees in Eliza Howell Park are quite fruitful again this year and the fruit is now ripening.

The nuts are inside burs covered with very sharp spines that quite effectively keep the fruit from being taken prematurely. While the ripe burs sometimes open while still on the tree, most seem to fall first, opening on the ground to reveal 2 or 3 nuts.

It is rare to find the nuts on the ground, however, since they quickly disappear, grabbed up almost immediately, with only empty burs left behind.

I suspect that squirrels take most of this desired food, either consuming the nuts on the spot or carrying them off for later. There are a variety of other animals that also find chestnuts both edible and desirable, including deer (according to reports) and humans.

The Eliza Howell chestnuts (I am not entirely sure of the exact species, perhaps Chinese Chestnut, perhaps a hybrid), are about an inch in diameter.

I have seen humans harvesting chestnuts in the park more often than I have seen them collecting hickory nuts or walnuts. Since humans are rarely able to beat other critters to the fallen nuts, they tend to harvest by picking the low-hanging fruit from the tree, dealing with the prickly spines as well as they can.

There is an unrelated tree/nut that might be confused with chestnut — the Buckeye or Horse Chestnut. Buckeye nuts, which are NOT edible, are considerabky larger and do not have the pointy end. The differences are evident in this picture (chestnut on the left; buckeye on the right).

My harvesting is limited so far this year to collecting a few for “study purposes.” I have found that the bur can be opened without pain to me or damage to the nuts by fairly gently rolling a bur under one’s boot.

Visitors to Eliza Howell often ask whether something is edible. The evidence is clear that chestnuts are prized as food by both wildlife and humans.

I am hoping that, one of these days, I will be able to confirm that the park deer are getting their fair share, as they get ready for rutting season

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