English Walnut

It may take a few years for a walnut tree to grow into a sculptural specimen with striking white limbs.

Like many ‘English’ plants, the English walnut, Juglans regia, is not actually from England. It is Persian, so is quite comfortable here in California. However, the foliar litter and husks contain a natural herbicide that can make nearby seed grown plants and annuals uncomfortable. Planted trees are typically grafted onto native California black walnut understock (roots) that is more resistant to disease, and improves stability.

Mature trees can be as tall as seventy five feet with trunks as wide as five feet, but are almost always significantly smaller, and even proportionate to urban gardens, although notoriously messy with bloom, leaves and nuts. The pinnately compound leaves are generally less than a foot long, with five to nine leaflets that can be between two to six inches long, and about two inches wide. The bark is notably smooth and gray until trees get quite old and furrowed.

Pecan

41210One might surmise that a tree that is resilient enough to be the state tree of Texas is not too discriminating. If it can take the heat and humidity of the Lone Star State, it can make it anywhere! However, pecan, Carya illinoinensis, actually prefers heat and humidity, and is bored with the mild local climate. The nuts and the mess that comes with them are actually less abundant than they would be in the Gulf Coast States. The deciduous foliage is not quite so colorful in autumn.

A mature pecan tree may stay a low as fifty feet, or get twice as tall. The height is usually nearly double the width. Generous watering can cause roots to buttress and displace nearby pavement. Most local pecan trees that are intentionally planted are garden varieties that were bred for bigger pecan nuts. Seed grown trees tend to produce nuts that are nearly comparable to the nuts they were grown from. The pinnately compound leaves have nine or more leaflets that are about two or three inches long.

Fruit From Non Fruit Trees

90828thumbThose of us who grew up with the old fashioned stone fruit orchards or vineyards might remember some of the traditional methods for protecting the ripening fruit from birds. Mulberry trees were grown on the corners of some orchards to keep birds well fed and less hungry for the ripe orchard fruit. Mulberry cultivars were selected to ripen just prior to the fruit within the particular orchards.

The trees were not there to produce fruit to be harvested like the fruit within the orchards was. Most, but not all of what the birds did not consume fell to the ground and rotted. Only small quantities of the overly abundant fruit was taken by a few neighbors who made jam or syrup with with it. Mulberries were a byproduct of the orchards that some put to good use just because it was available.

Decades ago, it was much easier to get a bit of fruit from neglected or naturalized fruit trees in rural regions and on roadsides without offending anyone. Isolated remnants of the old fruit orchards were common. American plum, which had been used as understock for orchard trees, had naturalized in some regions. For those daring enough to harvest them, so had Himalayan blackberry.

Even now, we can find a bit of fruit where do not expect it to be. A few plants that are grown more for their visual appeal can be surprisingly generous with their fruit production. Pineapple guava, which is now popularly grown as a simple evergreen hedge, used to be grown instead for its small tart guavas. Purple leaf plum, as it matures, may not be quite as fruitless as it is purported to be.

The difficulty with the more unfamiliar types of fruit is finding practical uses for it. The native blue elderberry makes excellent jelly or syrup, like black elderberry, but not many of us even know it is edible once cooked. Australian brush cherry, strawberry tree, English hawthorn and ‘Majestic Beauty’ Indian hawthorn, are never overly productive, but might sometimes make enough fruit for jelly.

Of course, no unfamiliar fruit or nut should be eaten prior to confirmation that it is safe for consumption.

Aw NUTS!

P90602Not just any nuts, but precisely the sort that I recently discussed with a colleague, as I explained how they do not grow here. The nuts that is. The big thicket forming shrubs that are supposed to produce them not only grow here, but are a relatively common native. I just rarely see even a single nut on them. I sort of wondered how they mange to procreate with such rare seeds that invariably get taken by unconcerned rodents or birds.
They are the beaked hazelnut, Corylus cornuta. You can see why they are known as such. The elongated nut husks look like Big Bird. The very rare nuts within are quite small with good rich flavor, like hazelnut concentrate, and develop only on the biggest and most distressed old hazelnut shrubs.
However, the young and healthy hazelnut shrub that produced the nut in this picture actually produced quite a few. They were just not close enough to each other for me to get more than one in a picture. A few other young and healthy hazelnut shrubs are doing the same at the same time. There are more hazelnuts now than I have seen collectively in many years. I can not explain why.
Some species of oak tend to produce an overwhelming abundance of acorns every several years or so, only to limit acorn production for the several years in between such abundance. All trees of the same species within a region somehow know to do this collectively at the same time. They do not do it often, but when they do, they do it together.
The oaks who do this supposedly produce just enough acorn to sustain a healthy squirrel population without promoting overpopulation. When they occasionally produce an excess of acorns, the squirrels instinctively bury many more acorns than they normally would, just because the acorns happen to be available. Since the squirrels can not consume all that they bury, many more stay buried to germinate and grow into trees later.

Almond

90206It is no more in season now than the other stone fruits like apricot, cherry, plum and such, but this is the time of year that almond, Prunus dulcis, needs work. Established trees get pruned while bare and dormant. New trees, preferably bare root, get planted. The most popular modern cultivars available are self pollinating, and labeled as such. Old traditional cultivars require pollinators.

Almond is the ‘other’ stone fruit. Because it is a nut, it does not resemble the rest of the juicy and fleshy stone fruits like nectarine and peach. However, the resemblance to the stones of the stone fruits is obvious. It is, after all, a big seed. The fruity parts form tough hulls that spit open to reveal the dry nuts within. Almonds do not get picked, but instead get shaken or knocked from the trees.

Because the nuts are lightweight, almond trees do not need to be pruned as aggressively as other stone fruit trees. Because the nuts are not hand picked, the trees can be pruned upward as deciduous shade trees with spectacularly white spring bloom. Some cultivars can get more than twenty feet tall. Squirrels and crows take most of the nuts, but do not bother to clean up the hulls.

Almond

70301It is known more as a small to mid-sized shade tree that produces edible nuts, but almond, Prunus dulcis, also blooms magnificently as soon as the weather allows. Actually, it often blooms a bit earlier than it should. Nut production can be ruined if rain dislodges blossoms or developing nuts. The profuse white flowers are small but slightly larger than those of other related stone fruit trees.

Yes, almond is the same genus as apricot, cherry, plum, peach and the other stone fruits. The fruit is actually very similar, but instead of developing into sweet flesh, it merely forms a hull that dries and separates from the nut within. The nuts are the large seeds or stones, like peach pits that can be eaten. Hulled but unshelled almond nuts are about one or two inches long. Because the nuts get shaken from trees instead of picked, trees can be allowed to get about two stories tall.