Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Tree-Spotter's Guide to Fruits and Seeds: Part 7

I've always been partial to pickled walnuts and the key thing to remember if you are going to pickle them is to time the harvest just right, before the coat of the developing seed inside begins to become woody, which you can test by pushing in a long needle. The soft outer fruit wall produces a black dye (which is why pickled walnuts are black) and after you've harvested them your hands go black too - it can take a couple of days for the dye to fade from your skin.

These are sitka spruce Picea sitchensis cones, which are often at the top of the tree and out of camera range, but this tree was growing on a cliff ledge and the cones were at eye level from the top of the cliff. Like so many conifers, sitka spruces are attractive trees when they are given space to develop their natural shape but all too often they are only seen crowded into dense commercial plantations. The tree a native of the west coast of North America, from Alaska to Northern California.

In comparsion to sitka spruce, the 4 cm.-long cones of giant redwood Sequoiadendron giganteum are diminutive and the seeds are minute - only about three millimetres across, including their papery wing - which is remarkable when you consider that the tree that they produce grows to a height of 100 metres and lives for over 3000 years.

The cones may be small but they do have an interesting pattern on the end of their scales........

... and are quite decorative when they ripen.

A familiar sight on the streets of the capital in winter - leafless branches of London plane Platanus x hispanica decorated with the dangling, ball-shaped fruits that break up to release small hairy seeds. The tree's only real link with London is that it's the commonest street tree there - it's actually a hybrid between Oriental plane Platanus orientalis from eastern Europe and north west Asia and the American plane (aka American sycamore) P. occidentalis. In nature the parents of the hybrid are separated by the Atlantic Ocean but they hybidised when they were grown together in Europe (possibly first in Spain - hence hispanica). The offspring of the union is a vigorous and pollution tolerant urban tree that rarely seems to be planted in the countryside.

For more on tree identification click here


  1. Beautiful pictures.. the sharpness is great.. interesting information..

  2. I haven't tasted walnut pickle, although walnut grows in the Himalayas. Interesting to know about the black dye.

  3. Fascinating and informative as ever Phil.

  4. Hi lotusleaf, pickled walnuts are a popular part of what we call ploughman's lunches here - crusty bread, tasty cheese, pickled onions, maybe some salad ... all washed down with a glass of beer (or two)...

  5. Pickled walnuts? I've never eaten one of those. Great information on trees, thanks Phil.

  6. Hi toffeeapple, I really like pickled walnuts but they're quite expensive so it's worth picking some in late summer and pickling your own (there are recipes on the web) - I left it too late this year...