Hazelnuts abundant in early August woodsAccording to the calendar, the first week of August is midsummer, the midpoint between the summer solstice of June and the autumnal equinox of September.
According to the calendar, the first week of August is midsummer, the midpoint between the summer solstice of June and the autumnal equinox of September.
August is a month of changes. The days get noticeably shorter, with later sunrises and earlier sunsets. This triggers an early migration. Family units of birds gather in restless groups moving through the yards and woods, flitting and chipping among the trees.
Swallow flocks get eager to move on and shorebirds gather at the edges of lakes. With their families raised, nearly all the birds stop singing their territorial songs. This August silence is broken as crickets, katydids and cicadas sing in the roadsides and fields.
Also in the roadsides, we see where the July flora of fireweed, milkweed and evening primrose has been replaced by the late-blooming flowers of sunflowers, goldenrods and asters.
Each has several kinds and they provide us with floral bouquets that last into the fall. This is also a month of mushroom-abundance and each day amid the warm temperatures and ample moisture, new kinds appear in our yards and woods.
The berry season that began in June and July continues now in August. As with many other happenings of nature, the crop was early this year and, with some plants, a bit sparse.
As July ended, I was picking raspberries that were scattered, but I was able to find them.
During a walk in the last days of the month, I also discovered ripe blackberries. More common in the south part of the region, these plump dark juicy berries seemed somewhat smaller that normal.
Other berries in the woods that we do not eat include baneberry (white and red), bunchberry, Bluebead lily, rose twisted-stalk, wild Lily of the Valley, jack-in-the-pulpit and trillium. And though we don’t consumer them, plenty of local wildlife finds them quite tasteful.
But let’s also look in the trees. Elderberries, pin cherries and choke cherries have been ripe for a while. The acorn growth is getting larger on the red oaks, and recently I noticed a few burr oaks with their unusual acorns as well. Also on the walk, I found that the hazel trees were loaded with their own crop.
As trees go, hazels are some of the smallest. Even a mature full-grown tree will usually be under ten feet tall. Indeed, we normally find them in the woods under the other larger trees or at the edge where they are able to get needed sunlight.
Two species of hazel grow here: the American hazel and the beaked hazel. Both are about the same size with similar leaves, and in early spring, each opens tiny, but pretty, purple flowers. These quarter-inch female flowers are on the same twig with the male catkins. The casual observer would not notice the difference; but once knowing what to look for, the difference becomes apparent. Stems, twigs and leaf petioles of the American hazels are covered with a growth of hair; beaked hazel is without this hair. But it is now when we can discern the two the best. Both have fruiting nuts at this time, but they look quite different from each other.
The husk of the American hazel is a ruffled covering, while that of the beaked hazel is drawn out to a long pointed projection, the shape of a beak. Within these green coats that ripen to a brown color in another month is the actual nut. Spherical and about one-half inch in diameter, this inner part is quite delicious. It is similar to the filbert nuts that we might see in grocery stores.
I’m hoping that I’ll be able to harvest some ripe hazelnuts this year. It seems that each year I locate them and return for a gathering, someone else, usually a bear or squirrel, has beat me to it. With the abundant crop in the woods now, maybe I’ll get some this year. And I’ll be able to taste a bit of what this month of August can offer.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o email@example.com.