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Let's learn about our nuts and seeds

In this topic, we will look at:

It is time to learn about the wild nuts and seeds of the British Isles.

Topic Overview

Here is a quick introduction to our common nuts and tree seeds:

  • There are 15 common nuts and seeds. There are a few more, but they are smaller and often overlooked while doing your nature walk.
  • Nuts and seeds are trees’ babies. They carry the trees’ genetic material away from their parent tree, to root, sprout and become new trees.
  • Some nuts and seeds are edible. Walnuts, hazelnuts and sweet chestnuts are all edible wild nuts.
  • Some common nuts and seeds are medicinal. Horse chestnut is used in herbal medicine today, while acorns used to be used in the past. Linden seeds can be infused into a beautiful, calming, honey-scented tea.

What are nuts and seeds?

Nuts and seeds are basically the babies or offspring of parent trees.

  • They are produced following pollination of the trees’ flowers.
  • They contain all the genetic material of the tree
  • Inside, they have a supply of food and nutrients ready to start their journey into new trees
  • They are specially adapted to disperse away from their parent trees
  • While we may differentiate them based on ‘look’, they are all ‘seeds’ – even nuts.
  • They are also all housed inside ‘fruit’, although they may not look like the fleshy fruits and berries we identify as fruit.

How do they disperse?

All trees have special adaptations to help their offspring move away from them. They do this in order to avoid competing for light, water and nutrients, and to avoid cross-pollination.

Some of their adaptations include:

  • Hard shells to protect and encourage them to bounce and roll away
  • Wings to help them fly away
  • Light, tiny seeds to disperse on the breeze
  • Buoyancy aids to help them float on water
  • A supply of starch and other carbohydrates to  encourage birds and animals to take them away and bury them

Which tree seeds fly?

Winged seeds are known as samaras, and have a light wing or membrane incorporated into their structure. This helps them spin away from their parents, or catch the wind and be blown away.

Some of them are also known as helicopter seeds, whirligigs and spinning Jennys. Our most common ‘helicopter seeds’, are:

  • Field maple
  • Norway maple
  • Sycamore

Which trees produce nuts?

There are six common ‘nut’ producing trees. They are:

  • Beech
  • Hazel
  • Horse chestnut
  • Oak
  • Sweet chestnut
  • Walnut

Which trees produce seeds?

There are many, many types of tree seeds, but some are small and easily overlooked. However, there are 9 trees with large or relatively large sized seeds, which are easily spotted on your nature walks. These are:

  • Ash
  • Field maple
  • Hornbeam
  • Linden
  • London plane
  • Norway maple
  • Pine
  • Sycamore
  • Wych elm

Which nuts are edible?

Some of out wild nuts are edible and can be foraged. But remember, some of them are toxic and must never be eaten. So, never eat any nut or seeds unless you are completely sure of its identity and know it is okay to be eaten.

A few of our edible nuts, are:

  • Hazel
  • Sweet chestnut
  • Walnut
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