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Cold, Corns & Cones

November 22, 2010

In many areas of the country, it's getting colder, and trees are becoming more and more bare. People are coming outside with more than just a sweatshirt on - I've seen my fair share of mittens and scarves on the colder mornings as people venture out, their breaths forming clouds of white around their heads.

But just because the amount of leaves on the ground are disappearing in recycle bags and mulch piles doesn't mean the trees don't leave other interesting remnants behind to collect, observe and get crafty with. I'm taking about acorns and pinecones.

Each acorn, sometimes referred to as oak nut because it comes from the oak tree, contains a single seed in a tough, leathery brown shell with a cup-shaped, textured top - kind of like a bowler hat.

This time of year, acorns are easy to find under any oak tree. The trick is to beat the squirrels in finding complete acorns with caps and nuts since they are collecting and storing their winter food source. I've had many an occasion where I find a lot of acorn caps in the fall and no nuts. Squirrels are so effective at snatching and storing acorns that they, as well as blue jays, serve as seed dispersal agents for oak trees. As they scatter and then hoard acorns in caches for future use, they effectively plant them in a variety of locations where they can germinate and thrive. These critters also have a great memory for where they stored their stashes for future consumption. Pretty smart.

Though squirrels are one of the largest consumers of acorns, woodpeckers, chipmunks and mice enjoy them, too. And deer also like to eat them - particularly in fall when they constitute 25 percent of their diet, according to The New World Encyclopedia. In fact, acorns are pretty nutritious for animals since they contain large amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats, as well as minerals like calcium, phosphorus and potassium. Though I haven't tried them myself, acorns are known to be bitter in taste.

Most importantly, that little acorn you find on the ground represents a pretty big idea. You've certainly heard the saying, "Mighty oaks from little acorns grow," and "Every majestic oak tree was once a nut who stood his ground." That strong, 100-year-old oak that is known for surviving winds and ice and drought - a mighty giant among trees - only came from a tiny acorn, after all. It's a little symbol of what we can accomplish with hard work and perseverance in our own lives.

Pinecones are not without great benefits of their own. Pine nuts are an important food source for bear, and pine nuts from larger species might make it into your favorite dish as pesto. Pinecones are also seed-dispersal mechanisms for their trees - the pines. But unlike acorns that can just seed a new oak tree on their own, a male and female cone are necessary to make a pine tree. A male pinecone releases its pollen, which travels by wind to female pinecones to fertilize.

I know my kids and I enjoy picking up and looking at pinecones quite a bit. They have such a unique shape with so many little grooves. And they come in so many sizes. Every time we collect them, we think we've found the fattest or biggest one. For the record, the coulter pinecone is the heaviest pinecone type in the world - it can weigh up to 10 pounds or more. And the sugar pinecone is the longest in the world - it can grow to 24 inches or more.

Here are a few fun crafts I've tried with pinecones and acorns that I think you might enjoy with your families, too. Enjoy these cooler days collecting tree treasures outdoors!

Pinecone Bird Feeder
Grab a large, open pinecone; peanut butter; Crisco; birdseed and some string. Tie the pinecone to a few feet of string and make a loop at the top for hanging. Spread a mixture of peanut butter and Crisco on the edges of the cone. Sprinkle with birdseed until it's covered. Hang the bird feeder outdoors and watch the birds enjoy the treat.

pinecone turkey

Pinecone & Acorn Turkey
Cut colored construction paper into feathers (red, orange, yellow and brown typically work best). Using Play-Doh or clay, make a small stand and put the pinecone in the center on its side. Attach the feathers to the wide side of the cone. Glue the acorn on the other end. Add eyes to the acorn with construction paper cutouts or googly eyes from a craft store. You can even use a piece of red yarn or construction paper to form the turkey's wattle. Now you have a mini decoration for the Thanksgiving table. You can make one for each guest.

Happy Thanksgiving from your friends at Davey!

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