Now that most of the tree leaves are gone we can look for the interesting pods, nuts, balls and berries dangling from the limbs.
Buckeye, walnut and hickory trees have round hard nuts. The buckeye nut is a solid structure, oddly rounded, with small bumps on its surface. When they split open one beautiful shiny nut with a flattened area is revealed. Often folks keep the nut in their pocket and rub it occasionally for good luck. They are not edible.
The Horsechestnut is an Asian relative of the buckeye. It has a thorny husk, and like the buckeyes is somewhat toxic to animals, humans and fish.
The black walnut is a greenish ball; the pit inside has smooth vertical ridges along it length. These pits do not break open easily, as those can swear to (and at) who try to crack them open for great walnut cake.
The white walnut or butternut has a more egg shape overall with the pit inside having sharp-edged ridges. The butternut tree doesn't seem to produce as many nuts as the black walnut.
The hickories usually split open in four sections and reveal a four-ribbed nut with a small point at top. A firm tap with a hammer will often crack them open for their chunks of nutmeat, if the squirrels don't get them first. Shagbark and mockernut hickories have the thickest outer husks with the pignut and bitternut hickory having a rather thin outer shell.
If you have ever come across a very prickly husk about 2 inches in diameter it was probably a chestnut or a chinquapin. The American Chestnut was once a very common tree in our eastern forests, until 1900, when a fungus bark disease, suspected from Asia, decimated them. Sprouts can still be found in our woods, but the blight takes over when the trees are hardly mature, though some do produce nuts. The chestnut forms two or three nuts per husk, and the chinquapin a single nut. Both species are edible.
Pod trees are the locusts, mimosa, catalpa, Paulownia, Kentucky Coffee Tree and the redbud. Among these pods only the catalpa is a long round pod, the others being flat pods of various lengths and widths.
Two other round seed structures are the spiny one and one-half inch ball of the sweetgum and the firm round seed ball of the sycamore. The sweetgum opens its pours and distributes its seeds before winter, the empty case making a neat ornament for the Christmas tree if sprayed gold.
The sycamore holds on to its seed ball until early spring, when it starts to break up and each seed, with its tiny hairs attached, floats down to the ground.
Have you seen some of these nuts, balls and pods along the Greenway?