by Mary Reid Barrow
The squirrels have been working hard recently to pry off every little scale and pull out every tasty pine nut on every ripe pinecone they could find on every pine tree on the street!
I didn’t realize how much feasting was really going on until Ian came along and blew most every pine cone down. Almost overnight, squirrel gnawing noises in the trees ceased. And stripped pinecones along with seemingly hundreds of pinecone scales stopped falling.
For a while I didn’t park my car under my pine tree. Every day, the car’s hood and roof would be covered and the space between the hood and the wind shield, overflowing with remnants of the pine nut feast. Sound familiar?
Now the squirrel pine nut bonanza is over!
Their pine nut season must have felt like we would feel with a bowl of pine nuts at our disposal for every recipe.
All pine nuts, really the seeds of the pine, are edible, but most of us wouldn’t work as hard as the squirrels to get our hands on loblolly pine nuts. We are spoiled. Our grocery store pine nuts come from more exotic trees like the Colorado or Mexican pinyon pine that grow much bigger and tastier nuts.
The squirrels’ timing has to be good to grab the nuts, before the pinecones open and release their seed when they ripen in late summer and fall. These are first-year pinecones and if you happen to see them on the ground you’ll see that their scales are tighter.
Sometimes you will even see a green cone on the ground. The great big gray ones that fall almost year round are usually second-year cones whose seeds dropped the year before.
I did find one pine nut the squirrels missed in a skinny weather-beaten cone the other day. The nut was so tiny and non-descript that it was hard to photograph.
But I do have two pieces of evidence that the squirrels don’t get all the pine nuts, though it sure feels like it.
One is a photo I took after I set up a display at a LRNow event to demonstrate how fresh pinecones shut tight in the rain. Botanists say that closing up in the rain helps pinecones hold on to their pine nuts so they can drop out on sunny days when the wind can disperse them.
I put a fresh cone from my driveway in a bowl of water.
It turns out, a little seed missed the cue to drop out before my demonstration cone fell to the ground. It got the message as the cone was drying out from its water bath. Much to everybody’s surprise, the seed sprouted from the cone over the course of the afternoon event!
The other piece is this photo of a tiny little pine tree growing in a crevice between my wooden deck and the porch wall. It obviously dropped as a seed from my huge pine tree above.
That’s at least two lucky little pine nuts that escaped the squirrels eating festival in my yard!
Contact Mary Reid at firstname.lastname@example.org