Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Nature Bulletin No. 434-A   November 20, 1971
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Every Thanksgiving Day at our house, on a side table in the dining room, there is a big wooden bowl of nuts. The Brazilnuts come from tropical forests in the Amazon basin of South America; the cashews from India; the pistachios from the British Indies; or Syria; and the macadamia nuts, which grow wild in Australia, from Hawaii. The almonds, filberts and English walnuts probably come from orchards in this country but almond trees are native to North Africa and Asia Minor, filberts were introduced from Europe, and English walnuts originated in Persia and regions around the Caspian Sea.

Only the pecans come from trees native in the United States and they are a cultivated "papershell" variety much larger than the wild ones. We use to gather hickory nuts, walnuts, butternuts and hazelnuts in autumn. On winter evenings we cracked them, with a hammer, on a rock or flat iron held between our knees, ate some, and saved the rest for use in cakes, candies, Waldorf salad, and homemade ice cream. Pecans and walnuts are shelled and sorted by ingenious, almost human machines nowadays.

Botanists define a true nut as a hard woody one-seeded fruit such as acorns, hazelnuts, chestnuts, beechnuts and chinquapins, and a drupe as a fruit with a pulpy or leathery or fibrous layer around a hard " stone" containing a single seed. Cherries, plums, peaches and apricots are drupes and technically because of the spongy hulls that surround them, so are hickory nuts, walnuts, butternuts and almonds. The coconut is a drupe. The brown 3-sided Brazilnuts are also seeds - from 18-24 of them being contained in a hard round thick shell about 6 inches across. Peanuts are the dried pods of a non-woody plant of the Pea Family and what we eat, inside, are the seeds. In this bulletin we will disregard those confusing distinctions.

Prehistoric peoples, before they learned to till the soil and raise crops eked out their diets with roots, berries and nuts. It is still true in many parts of the world -- even in southern Europe where chestnuts are important in the winter diet of poor people. Preserved inside their airtight shells, nuts can be stored for a long time and they are rich in oil, protein and vitamin B.

Chemists are finding more and more materials obtainable from a great variety of nuts. The coconut is probably the most useful of all, but over 300 uses for peanuts have been developed. The non-edible tung nuts of China, now grown in our Gulf states, contain an oil valuable for paints and varnishes. Some of the palm nuts and the babassu nut of Brazil -- hardest nut in theworld -- have become important in the manufacture of soaps. Some nuts supply oils used in perfumes. The shells of peanuts and walnuts have been used in making plastics and the polishing of metal surfaces such as the cylinder walls of automotive engines. The pioneers' hogs, cattle and horses, the wild turkeys, and billions of passenger pigeons, fattened upon the mast supplied by oak, beeches and chestnuts. Our nut trees still furnish food important to many forms of wild life and the oaks, black walnuts and hickories are the most valuable of all deciduous trees for lumber.

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