Nuts About Fall

Squirrel in fall leaves.

Nuts About Fall

Written By: Gia Giammarinaro, Naturalist at Cincinnati Parks California Woods Nature Preserve

Fall is a beautiful season for so many reasons. The temperature and humidity drop from the summery, sticky highs. Even though the days are getting shorter, the weather tends to be sunny. Those beautiful changing leaves tend to linger on Cincinnati’s trees and shrubs; and when they finally drop, you can see the overlapping hills and valleys that define our natural landscapes.

There are many other things that make fall a special time. One that may not leap to your mind when thinking about fall, is nuts. But nuts are essential for both animal and tree survival in our forests. Nuts are very nutritious: high in the “good” Omega 3 fatty acids, and also containing protein. Nuts contain vitamins and minerals, such as copper, manganese and even vitamin B6.
Trees produce these nutrition packed seeds at huge expense to themselves. Nuts take a very long time for a tree to produce throughout the growing season. Nut bearing trees set out their wind-pollinated flowers before their leaf buds break, and nuts grow and mature all through spring and summer. They also take a lot of the tree’s resources to make. Just when they are ripe and ready to go, many forest animals (including humans) come along and destroy them by eating. So why bother? Nut producing trees “share” many of their fruit because it’s a win-win situation for both the trees and forest animals. Especially squirrels.

We see squirrels harvest and hide nuts (walnuts, acorns, hickory nuts, etc.) all fall. As we know, they are storing these nuts for their winter food. They take a nut and bury it for later consumption. Squirrels do not hide their food in a large cache, they bury the nuts one at a time in hundreds of sites. While squirrels are thought by scientists to have an exceptional memory compared to most other rodents, they can’t remember where ALL of their nuts are. Plus, they tend to bury more than they need. Just in case. The nuts the squirrel finds are lost to the tree. But the nuts that are left have been effectively planted by the squirrel.

American Gray Squirrel: the great northern forest farmer!

You can get out and see these nuts taking shape on the trees in most of our Parks. Some of the most prevalent nut bearing trees in your parks are the Black Walnut, Shagbark and Shellbark Hickories, and of course the acorn-bearing Oak trees. Mt. Airy Forest has great examples of every one of these trees. French Park has many Black Walnut trees. Rapid Run and California Woods are both fine places to visit if you are interested in seeing many types of acorns. Go take a walk and look for nuts; you are also sure to find many happy squirrels!