Tag Archives: Trees

Nutty Over Nuts

Fall is an especially good time to find all kinds of nuts on the forest floor, in a picnic area in the park, or maybe even in your neighborhood or back yard. Let’s take a look and learn how to identify some of these wild nuts.

In technical botanical terms, all of these “nuts” are called the “fruit”. The fruit is defined as the seed and the package which holds the seed. So, for example, the acorn is the “fruit” of an oak tree, and inside is the nut which is a type of seed. If you use plant keys you will see those terms, but for general use, it is ok to call them all nuts!

Acorns are some of the most common types of nuts. Do you know what tree they come from? Acorns come from oak trees. Oaks are found far and wide across New York State and the United States so you should be able to find oak trees and acorns in a park near you. Acorns come in different shapes and sizes, depending on the type of oak they are from. They are a favorite food of squirrels, turkeys, deer, and other animals.

Red oak acorn_photo by Julie Lundgren
Red oak acorn, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP

Red oak acorns are big (over 1 inch long) and roundish like a fat egg. They have very flat caps that cover only a small part of the acorn. The northern red oak (Quercus rubra) is the most common oak species in NY and its state parks.

Scarlet oak acorn_photo by Julie Lundgren
Scarlet oak acorn, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP

Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) acorns are less than 1 inch long and have shiny caps with tight scales. Scarlet oaks are common in Eastern NY, usually found on sandy or rocky soils. If you look closely at this picture, you can see a small round hole in the acorn: a sign that it was eaten by some type of insect.

Bur oak acorn_photo by Julie Lundgren
Bur oak acorn, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP

The large size and heavy fringe of this acorn cap tell us that these are from bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), one of our less common oak species in NY. Sometimes you will only the acorns caps, as the nuts have been carried away by squirrels.

Walnuts

What nut looks like a green tennis ball? That would be the black walnut (Juglans nigra), from the tree of the same name. They have a really strong smell and can stain your clothes, so handle with care. Over time they turn brown and dry out. Black walnuts can be eaten but it takes a lot of work to dry and husk them. They also make a beautiful natural dye.

Black walnuts ADJ_photo by Julie Lundgren
Fresh black walnuts can get almost as big as a tennis ball. As they age and dry out, they get smaller like the one in the center. photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP

The butternut tree (Juglans cinerea) is a closely related to black walnut and has very similar nuts. They start out bright green like the black walnut, but are shaped more like footballs rather than the tennis balls shape of black walnuts.

Butternuts ADJ_photo by Julie Lundgren
Butternuts, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP

By early fall, the butternuts nuts have dried up and lost their fuzzy husk and they look very much like the English walnuts you buy in the store. This butternut was found empty. Both black walnuts and butternuts are edible but it can be tough to find one that hasn’t already been snacked on by a squirrel!

Butternut_photo by Julie Lundgren
Butternuts in mid-fall, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP

Hickory

Hickories are another very important tree for wildlife including turkey, deer, chipmunk, squirrel, mice and others. Of the 20 hickory species found in North America, five species are native to New York State. A good key to identifying these is found here.

Hickory shells ADJ_photo by Julie Lundgren
Hickory nuts can have thin or thick-walled husks like the two types shown here, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP.
Pignut_Bitternut_photo by Julie Lundgren
Pig nut, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP.

Pignut (Carya glabra), Mockernut (Carya tomentosa) and Bitternut (Carya cordiformis) hickory have thin husks like this. There are two types of nuts: ones that keep their husk on as they mature or ripen (“indehiscent”) and those with husks that split completely and fall off the nut by the end of fall (“dehiscent”). One has to look at the leaves and/or buds to properly identify these species. As its name suggests, Bitternut is one that is not palatable to either wildlife or people.

Shellbark Hickory_photo by Julie Lundgren
Shellback Hickory nut, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP.

Wow – what nuts are these? These are the thick husks of the Shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa), a tree that is rare in NY. The husks range from 1.5 inches to nearly 3 inches long, and the nuts inside would be pointed at both ends. That’s one tough nut to crack! These husks were empty, but you can see how the cavity tapers to a point at each end. The more common Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) is very similar, but the nuts are rounded at the base and the husks do not exceed 2 inches long. Nuts from both of these trees are sweet and edible.

American Chestnut

American Chestnut_photo by Julie Lundgren
American chestnut, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP.

If you find one of these, consider yourself very lucky! This is the fruit and nut of the American chestnut tree (Castanea dentata). Although a blight killed off the large trees, some sprouts persisted and some trees do get large enough to produce nuts like this. These spikes are so sharp you can’t even pick them up with your bare hands, which keeps animals from eating the nut inside. Eventually the husks open up to release the nut in hopes that a new tree will grow.

Quiz Time – What Nuts are These?

Piles hickory shells_photo by Julie Lundgren
Shell pile at the base of a tree, photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP.

It’s easy to overlook them, but look around the base of the trees and sometimes you will find piles of nuts – empty or maybe whole. All kinds of nuts are a very important food source for wildlife. The ones shown above (mixed in with the leaves) are mostly the empty shells or husks of hickory nuts that were eaten by animals.

Shell assortment ADJ_photo by Julie Lundgren
Can you find the following nuts: black walnut, a half-eaten butternut, 2 kinds of hickory nuts, and caps from some acorns? Photo by Julie Lundgren, NYNHP.

Learn More

Want to learn more about nuts and tree fruits of all kinds? Below are some good books and websites to get you started.

Fruit Key and Twig Key book_photo by Julie Lundgren
“Fruit Key and Twig Key to Trees and Shrubs” by William Harlow, photo by Julie Lundgren.

GoBotany – an online tool for identifying plants in New England but includes most tree species found in NY state too.

Shellbark Hickory NYNHP Conservation Guide

New York Flora Atlas

Photos and post by Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program

Happy Arbor Day

What is it about trees that can make you stop and look?

Is it the sunlight on the trunks of yellow birch that catches your eye – the bark silvery-gold and curling? Or the smooth gray bark of beech –  easy to look for scars from bear claws on this canvas. Or perhaps it is the rough platy bark of a shagbark hickory that intrigues you.  No matter what catches you about a particular tree, your gaze inevitably follows the trunk up it’s base, and continues upward into the canopy where the branches are silhouetted against the sky. The beautiful spectacle prompts many questions: How old is it? What has it been through? Are there any animals up there?

Of course, trees with showy flowers – like magnolia, cherry, or crabapple – always grab our attention. But all our broadleaf trees also have flowers, so look a little closer for those that are not so conspicuous. Among the first to flower in the spring are the maples, a hint of color in the treetops. Look for red tassels on red maple (Acer rubrum) or silver maple (Acer saccharinum) or green on sugar maple (Acer saccharum). Norway maple (Acer platanoides) has larger yellow-green flowers. Take a closer look at these little bouquets; you can usually find clusters that have fallen to the ground.

Red maple_Donald Cameron_One time use for this blog
Red maple (Acer rubrum) flowers. Photo by Donald Cameron 2017, GoBotany, used with permission.

A nice tree to look for in the spring is serviceberry, also known as shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis and A. arborea). Its delicate white flowers show up long before the other trees leaf out, so you can spot these trees more easily in spring than in the summer. There are also several shrub species of Amelanchier in NY State, all with similar flowers.

And later in the season, in May-June, look for the straight-as-a-pole tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) whose flowers look like yellow-green tulips!

Trees become a busy place in the spring too. Bees and other insects feed on the nectar and pollen of the flowers above. Woodpeckers search for insects under the bark and many animals hide out or make their home in tree cavities – bats, owls and other birds, raccoons, squirrels, and porcupines. Bears climb trees for safety and sometimes curl up in the base of big hollow trees. With all that activity, trees are a good place for wildlife watching, whether in your neighborhood or in a state park or historic site.

Birding at Minnewaska_Jubilee Feist
Binoculars are good for watching wildlife and also for getting a better look at the trees. This volunteer was making a list of birds at Minnewaska State Park Preserve on I Love My Park Day.

NY State Parks are home to countless beautiful trees.  Look for many mature and outstanding trees around the mansions and other historic sites, at campgrounds and picnic areas, and in the forests that cover nearly 80% of State Park lands. Get out and enjoy the trees on Arbor Day – and every day – in your neighborhood and favorite parks.

Post by Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program. Photos by NYNHP or other as noted; for use by permission only.

Unseen Buds

We salute National Poetry Month with a poem by Walt Whitman, the 19th century poet whose birthplace is a New York State Historic Site.

UNSEEN BUDS

Unseen buds, infinite, hidden well,

Under the snow and ice, under the darkness, in every square or

cubic inch,

Germinal, exquisite, in delicate lace, microscopic, unborn,

Like babes in wombs, latent, folded, compact, sleeping;

Billions of billions, and trillions of trillions of them waiting,

(On earth and in the sea – the universe – the stars there in the

heavens,)

Urging slowly, surely forward, forming endless,

And waiting ever more, forever more behind.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of grass, 1891-1892

Take some time this month to see the poetry in the unseen buds and early spring flowers in a state park or historic site near you.

Winter Tree Identification Part II: Evergreen Trees

Evergreen means these trees keep their “leaves” throughout the winter. Though we may call them pine needles, they are actually very skinny leaves that serve the same function as the leaves on a deciduous tree. Identifying evergreens during the winter months is almost the same as in spring and summer, with the added advantage of having mature pine cones.  Growth pattern, bark, cones, needle shape and number are used to identify the different species. Let’s learn how you can identify red pine, white pine, and eastern hemlock.

Last time we learned that leaves attached at the stem from the node. This is the same for evergreen trees, except these trees can have multiple needles attached to the stem in a bundle or sheath. This helps identify species since they differ by the number of needles they have per bundle.
See the example below:

Needles per cluster 2
This red pine has two needles per bundle.

 

Now we are ready to learn some tree species!

We will start with white pine. First let’s look at the bark and growth pattern:

WHITE PINE

White Pine LS Final 2

White pine usually grows straight and tall with horizontal, upturned branches. The tree has a uniformly full foliage appearance. The bark is a light gray in color with shallow ridges.  White pines can be found in well drained soils and are native throughout the state.

Now we will look at the characteristics of the twig and cone. There is a pencil in each picture for size reference:

White Pine LS 1

White pine has 5 needles per bundle. The needles and stem are flexible and slender. The cone is long and narrow and about 3 to 8 inches in length. Needles are light green in color.

RED PINE

Red Pine Tree LS Final

Red pine is a tall, straight growing tree with horizontal or dropping branches. The foliage looks clumpy, instead of uniformly full like white pine.  The bark can have a reddish coloring and is flaky/ scaly. This tree grows in well drained areas; such as rocky or sandy habitat. Red pines are native to a small area of the state, but are often planted around reservoirs or in parks.

Red Pine LS

Red pine has two long needles per bundle. The needles and stem are thick, unlike white pine. The needles are dark green and stiff – they break in half easily. The cone is short and round; usually about 1.5 to 3 inches in length.

EASTERN HEMLOCK

Hemlock LS Final

Eastern hemlock has a tall straight growth pattern. The branches grow horizontally. The foliage is more of a yellowish green in color compared to white pine. In this picture there are white pine trees in the left background for comparison. The bark is scaly when young, becoming ridged with age. The trunk is reddish-brown in color. These trees grow in shady-moist habitat, often along streams, on slopes or at higher elevations. Eastern Hemlocks are native to NY.

Hemlock LS 5

Hemlock does not have bundles of needles, just one short needle per node. The needles are yellow-green in color and are soft and flexible. The underside of the needle is whitish. The cone is small and round, under an inch in length. The twig is thin and flexible.

Test your identification skills during the upcoming Red Oak Ridge hike at Moreau Lake State Park!

Post and photos by Lilly Schelling.

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Tree Identification Part I: Deciduous Trees

In the summer you can recognize the different kinds of trees from the shape and size of their leaves. When trees drop their leaves in the winter months you can use different characteristics such as bud shape, leaf arrangement, bark, and overall growth pattern to identify tree species. As an example, let’s learn how you can identify Red Maple, Green Ash, and Black Walnut. First let’s learn some basic terms!

We will start with leaf or bud arrangement on the stem which will be either “alternate” or “opposite”. The buds are where next year’s leaves will emerge from and the nodes are where the leaf or bud attaches to the stem.

Alternate
Alternate leaf arrangement is when there is one leaf per node.
Opposite
Opposite leaf arrangement is when there are leaves per node (across from one another).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaf Scar
The leaf scar is another important characteristic to look at. This is where the leaf fell off the stem during autumn. Some trees, like the Black Walnut, have very distinctive leaf scars. Their leaf scar resembles a fuzzy smiley face!

Now we area ready to learn some tree species!

GREEN ASH

We will start with Green Ash. First let’s look at the bark and growth pattern:

Ash LS Final

Green ash is typically very straight with a single trunk. The branches usually grow from the top of the tree, not from the sides. The bark is greyish in color with thin furrowed ridges forming an intersecting diamond pattern. Green ash is found growing in lowland areas.

 

 

Now we will look at the characteristics of the twig:Ash LS Notice how the leaf buds are rounded and in an opposite arrangement at the leaf node. The leaf scar is shaped like a half moon or an upside-down “D”. The stem is grey in color and the buds are a dark greyish-brown. There is one bud at the apex, or tip of the stem. White ash is very similar, but the leaf scar has a v-shaped notch on the top and the twigs tend to be gray-green.

RED MAPLE

Red Maple Tree LS Final

Red maples vary in growth pattern. They may grow with a straight trunk or multi branched; like the tree in this picture. Bark is greyish-brown with a thin flaky appearance. Younger trees look smooth, the “plating” or flaky appearance, increases with age. Red maples often grow in swamps but are common in uplands too.

 

Red Maple KS final

Red maples have opposite leaf arrangement. Flower buds usually form high up in the canopy and not on lower branches. Once the flowers have bloomed, leaves will replace them on the same node. The leaf and flower buds are reddish in color, as is the stem itself. The leaf buds are pointed and there is one terminal leaf bud.

BLACK WALNUT

Black Walnut Tree Final

Black walnut trees have a wide branching growth pattern. The bark is dark brown, becoming darker with age. The bark has deeper furrowed ridges than ash, with looser intersecting ridges. Also evident is the dropped compound leaf stalks* underneath the tree. Black walnut trees are found growing in well drained, lowland areas.

*A compound leaf (such as on ash and walnut) has multiple leaflets on the leaf stalk. See below.
Compound leaf

Simple Leaf

Black walnuts have alternate leaf arrangement with a large terminal bud. The buds are fuzzy and light gray in color. The leaf scar is large compared to the bud. The pith (spongy tissue in the center of the stem) is distinctly chambered. This can be seen by carefully taking a sharp blade and cutting the stem in half, as shown in the image below.

Black Walnut LS

Post and photos by Lilly Schelling.