It’s been the loveliest fall ever – reds, golds, corals, yellow – the trees in Forest Hills have put on a marvelous show. The trees are losing more than leaves, however. This is the time of year when their main business is ripening and dispensing seeds.
On the hors d’ouevres tray below, I’ve arranged some of the local seeds of fall. Almost all are from Forest Hills trees. (Most are not edible.)
At the top of the yellow plate is a chestnut burr, and just below are the chestnuts. This comes from a Chinese chestnut in Rock Creek Park – most American chestnuts succumbed to the Asian chestnut fungus in the 1930’s.
Going clockwise, the group of spiky balls is from a sweetgum; next are hickory nuts, with one showing that the squirrel finally got the inner edible nut.
Continuing clockwise, the next group is an unusual acorn and cup from a southern bur oak, a tree not usually seen this far north, but planted by the city on Chesapeake Street.
On the silver tray (to the left) are a group of tiny brown Bradford pears. The city planted our tree lawns with a sterile version that does not produce fruit. But there’s always a ringer, and my own pear produces hundred of little bitter pears, great food for the squirrels and the birds.
The unusual cone on the right of the tray is from a southern evergreen magnolia.
Landscapers used to plant them in our yards, and by now they have gotten tall with beautiful glossy leaves. Their cones, with red seeds popping out, are a natural Christmas decoration.
There are many more intriguing seeds in our neighborhood. Whenever you are out for a walk or jog, look up – or down – and you will be surprised. Here are the long bean-like pods of the catalpa at the corner of 30th and Davenport.
You may remember this old tree with its cloud of white blossoms in May. The catalpa belongs to a family that prefers warmer climates, like the jacaranda, and it is the only member of its family in the U.S.
The redbud with its brown pea pods is everywhere. The city planted them on our tree lawns because they are short and grow below the wires. It is a native tree, often seen along the Potomac, and a member of the pea family. Each pod has several seeds inside, which drop to the ground and sprout.
Everyone knows the dogwoods. There are sixty species all over the world, but this is our native tree (Cornus florida), photographed in Rock Creek Park. Squirrels and birds love the red seeds, and come a snowy day, the robins will flock in and gorge.
All these seeds and fruits are an important food source for animals. We expect the squirrels and the birds, but I was amazed to find my milkweed pods covered with a lovely orange “beetle.”
It turns out that there are a group of “seed” bugs which appear in the fall just to take advantage of the ripening seeds of native plants. The orange bug above is the milkweed bug. It lays its eggs in September, and its larvae feed on the small brown seed attached to a milkweed “parachute.” By November they are all gone, although they have left me some seeds for next year.
Some of these seeds and nuts will be eaten, some will rot, and a few will sprout now or in late winter, creating the next generation for our landscape.