On Saturday Kodi and I were walking through College Woods in Durham, one of our favorite local haunts. Kodi has a few favorite swimming holes and finds squirrels to tease. The place is full of gray squirrels. At one spot along the trail I heard a drip, drip, drip. I looked about and saw the ground littered with the hulls and seeds of beechnuts. A squirrel was systematically harvesting beechnuts over my head. I assume at some point it would climb down the tree and start eating and caching the huge harvest. I wondered if it would share the harvest with other squirrels.
Beechnuts are from the American beech, Fagus grandifolia. Beech fruits are a little more than 1/2 inch in size and covered in a bur. Inside are two small, sweet triangular nuts. The tree is easily recognizable with its smooth, gray bark, unless it is infected with beech bark disease (which many are) then its bark is pockmarked with cankers. When hiking in the White Mountains I always check beech trees for bear claw marks, beechnuts being a favorite food of black bears.
It seems a little early for the beechnut harvest, but animals always know when fruits are ripe or just about to be ripe. Take the chipmunks in our vegetable garden. They snatch a tomato just before its ripe for picking. One feature of chipmunks is that they are so easy to live trap - just bait the trap with a tomato! I caught two this weekend and moved them elsewhere, to a nice wooded stone wall where they can eat beechnuts instead.