American Bladdernut: From May to November

Though it is the middke of Nivember, It is starting to look and feel a lot like Winter in Eliza Howell Park. One tree species that is more noticeable in Winter, because it retains its seeds, is a small tree known as American Bladdernut.

The seed capsules are perhaps the most distinctive aspect of this small tree or shrub. They are about 2 inches long, light and papery, and the shape has been compared to a bladder (hence the common name of the species).

I am aware of only one location in the park where these trees grow, a cluster of 20 or more of them on the riverbank, near the woodland path. I first noticed them a couple years ago, in the Winter, when the leaves were down.

Since then, I have visited the spot at different times of the year, getting to know the tree better.

Bladdernut flowers, in clusters, are present in May.

In the months since, the seed capsules have grown and gradually changed in color, just recently reaching their mature shade of brown. The seeds are abundant this year.

The capsules have three sections, each containing one or more seeds. In the Fall and Winter the seeds are loose inside the pod, sounding like a rattle when the capsule is shaken.

The seeds are about the size and shape of a popcorn kernel. They are edible, hard and crunchy.

I find Bladdernut fascinating, perhaps because I was totally unaware of it for most of my life and because it is quite unlike other trees found in Eliza Howell Park. It is native but, at least here, uncommon.

At this time of the year, the Bladdernut patch is one of the regular stops on my walks. This photo is from my most recent park visit, on November 20.

I have also begun to vary my walks, checking other areas near the river, to see if I can find another grouping of Bladdernuts. This leafless time is definitely the best time of the year to spot them.

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