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A feast of plenty in the forest

By Susan and Biff Andrews

On a half hour walk this week at Lone Star Lakes, we couldn’t help noticing all the edibles along the route. We’re not just talking thistles and other wildflowers for the birds; we’re talking about bigger sustenance for bigger critters.

Any animal that has not fattened himself up for winter has only himself to blame. And you thought California was the land of fruits and nuts! Not so. It’s Virginia.

Wild grapes — green, black and purple — hang everywhere. Birds, mammals, rodents … it’s a feast. Some are a quarter-inch across, some a full inch. We didn’t sample, but they must be good. And nutritious.

Persimmons litter the ground in spots. They make good people food as long as they are completely ripe. These were an inch to an inch and a half in diameter — juicy, luscious sweet persimmons. The unripe variety will make your mouth pucker to the point of turning inside-out. It’s hard to imagine the variety of animals that enjoy them like candy.

There are also the usual chokeberry, beautyberry, and hackberry to round out the berry buffet. The good Lord created them all to nourish His creatures. But the fruits are scant, compared to the nuts.

We have been bombarded with hickory nuts all summer, now followed by the bulk of the beechnuts, along with their prickly, pointed husks. And they are still falling. This was no exception on our walk. Although beechnuts are small, they are highly nutritious forage for raccoons, possums, squirrels, chipmunks and so on.

And of course, there are the pinecones opening up their pine-nut treasures to the world. We wondered if the nutmeats of the huge longleaf pines are edible for humans, as one can eat the Italian pine nuts available in stores.

Acorns don’t seem to be a bountiful mast crop this year, but there aren’t a lot of oak trees in Lone Star, anyway. Pecan trees, however, are everywhere, and the nuts are large, human edible, just begging to be picked up and shelled. We saw some that were nearly two inches long and fat. Where they fall, they’ll lie until something eats them.

Non-native species, such as mimosa with their seedpods and Kudzu blossoms as they flower, seem to have no attractions for any of our native species.

An anomaly this year is the almost complete lack of black walnuts. On eight or 10 mature trees, we saw a total of one walnut. This is where we usually collect about five bushels and give them to the forest service for seed. Can it be THAT bad a year?

And thistles seem to be late this year, such that we see only a few butterflies on them.

At any rate, if a bear goes to sleep hungry, if a bird migrates south in hunger, if a raccoon isn’t rotund … it’s their own fault!

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.