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What’s This? No. 22
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Your latest What’s This? nature challenge was perched on snow here in eastern Vermont on January 16, 2012. Name it and be eligible to win $5 off any of my nature outings or workshops. Submit your answer in the comments section below. From the correct answers, I’ll choose a winner at random on Sunday. (Fear not – I won’t publish wrong answers; so guess boldly, my friends.)
This particular “husk” (more on terminology below) is missing one of its four “wings” (if you will), which was supposed to make this particular What’s This? challenge a bit more, well, challenging. Also, the husk is wide open. Most of the time they look like what I’ve got pictured to the right at the bottom.
In any event, Victoria Davis was my randomly selected winner from among the 25 of you who got it right, all of whom are now listed below (including Sara Backer’s customary and wonderful honorable mention).
But, first, let’s get right with our fruity terminology. Or more to the point: What’s with those spines?
The spines originate on the female flower of an American Beech. Beech are monoecious, which means that each tree has separate male and female flowers (pictured on top there to the right). Surrounding the base of a female flower is set of slender bracts called an involucre. As the fertilized flower matures, the involucre fuses and grows into a spiny husk called a cupule surrounding two (edible) nuts – the beech nuts. The whole mess is actually called a fruit (the middle image), which in American Beech opens in the fall to drop its nuts. Black Bear, Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkey, and Human Beings are among the creatures that eat those nuts. Eventually, the empty cupule (the bottom image to the right), falls from the tree.
So there you have it. What’s This? No. 22 is three quarters of an American Beech cupule, wide open and still armed with its spiky involucre. The ever-creative Sara Backer, a regular contributor to What’s This?, has a different take on this challenge:
“On the streets of Bali, you can buy this miniature glass figurine which symbolizes the power of fire in metamorphosis from life to death. Look closely in the center of the flames and you’ll see a triangular face adjacent to an upside down skull. (Bali is Hindu, not Muslim, and cremation is the only acceptable form of corpse disposal.)”
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