November 21, 2021
It was a fantastic day for our third and last Smoothie & Walk! The day was sunny, with temps in the 40s and no wind or rain. The day before wasn’t so nice, so we lucked out again. We had 15 guests attending. Some who could not make it were replaced with others, including one walk-in.
Our theme was “Searching for Nuts and Berries.” After a brief introduction on the patio, we walked to the persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana) and marveled at the many fruits that were still on the tree. The fruit, when ripe, is delicious. It may be best after a slight frost and when it drops from the tree but before it gets too ripe. Native Americans may have used the dried fruit for preserving venison. The persimmon and the paw paw (Asimina triloba) are our only native fruit trees, although we have many berries. The paw paw ripens in September and the persimmon in November. They both have pinnate leaves that go from green to bright yellow before dropping.
The shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) was our next stop. This is the most edible of the hickories and is treasured as an ingredient in baking and eating. It is a mast year for nuts and acorns, with lots visible on the ground. This is a cycle, and there may be very few in the coming years, leading to a change in the wildlife population from feast to famine. Hickory and ash have pinnate leaves. The hickory leaves are alternately attached to the stem, and ash are oppositely attached. The white ash (Fraxinus americana) and green ash (Fraxinus virginica) are a brilliant yellow and get seeds, not nuts, and the hickory leaves are a more orange color. Bitternut, mockernut, and sand hickories are found here at Adkins.
Next was the black walnut (Juglans nigra), which is also native and has a larger nut with more tannins. It can be used as black dye, and Native Americans have used it to paint their faces. Walnuts are very nutritious, with healthy omega-3 fats and protein. They can be used in soups, breads, and other foods. Black walnut has a pinnate leaf much like the hickory but with many more leaflets. This walnut is noted for not letting things grow underneath.
Oaks are abundant on the Eastern Shore and in the Midwest. They can be divided into red or white. The leaves of white oaks have rounded lobes, and the red or black oaks have stipules on the lobes of the leaves. Another difference is in the acorns. White oak acorns have less tannic acid and mature in one year. Red oak acorns have more tannic acid and spend two years on the tree before maturing and dropping. Therefore, acorns from white oaks sprout easily and are preferred by wildlife for their sweeter flavor. The red oak acorns are better for storing because they don’t tend to sprout and spoil as easily. Squirrels might bite the tips to keep acorns from sprouting in storage. Acorns can be used as flour but need a leaching process for the tannic acid. This involves soaking in many changes of water, then roasting and peeling and grinding into flour. They are very nutritious and can be used as a source of protein and other nutrients, as early inhabitants did before grocery stores!
Oak trees can be identified by the leaves and the acorns. However, they do hybridize. One very distinctive white oak leaf looks like a Maltese cross. This is the post oak (Quercus stellata). One of the southern red oak leaves looks like a turkey’s foot or Christmas tree (Quercus falcata). We had pictures of leaves and acorns of many of the oaks in our woods, and there is a map showing the locations of some of these oaks if you want to explore, especially this time of year. Another difference is that the white oaks have a flaky gray bark, while the red or black oaks are dark and deeply grooved.
We also looked at sassafras trees (Sassafras albidum). We know their bark is the origin of our root beer flavor, now made chemically. Sassafras tea might have some carcinogens and is not recommended. Leaves are used to make file powder, a thickener used to make gumbo and a seasoning in some cultures. There are also sumac berries and many other berries found in the summertime that can be dried and stored for later.
Soup ’n Walks are set to resume in March, and we look forward to their return. Our helpers were Michelle D. at the desk and Marilyn R., Janis T., Gail R., Joyce W., and Betty M.
Thanks to all. We had a wonderful time and talked of more fun in the future.
by Julianna Pax
Maryland Master Naturalist and Soup ‘n Walk program leader