Conservation Corner

By Dan Zarlenga, Missouri Department of Conservation

September Is Nuts In Missouri

You didn’t really think nuts just came straight from a jar with a peanut guy on the label wearing a top hat and a monocle, did you? They actually come from trees. Maybe even trees in your own backyard or neighborhood. September is the beginning of nut production season in Missouri.

Nuts are the fruiting bodies produced by some species of trees. You can think of nuts as sort of like the “apples” of these trees, except with a super hard skin! Within that hard, outer shell, the nut is a seed that can create a new tree someday.

Forests in the Show-Me-State produce a bounty crop of nuts. In addition to being good for the trees, nuts are tasty and nutritious for animals and people to eat too. They are a healthy food source, packed with calories and protein that animals need to help them survive the winter. Unlike apples and other soft fruits, nuts can stay good for a long time since they have no juice to spoil.

One of the most common nuts you’ll find in Missouri are black walnuts, which come from none other than—black walnut trees. Did you know that our state is the Number One producer of black walnuts in the entire world? While most abundant in the north part of Missouri, black walnuts grow almost everywhere, including right around here. They’re often found in pastures, bottomlands, and forested areas like conservation areas and state parks.

Look for their large, green, ball-like husks lying on the ground near the trees this time of year. You might even smell their strong and distinctive odor. Be careful you don’t slip on one while hiking though! There are many places on public land where you can pick some up for your own personal use—just be sure to check the rules of wherever you go first.

Cracking those walnut hulls will be quite a project, though, because they are extremely tough. Some people have resorted to using sledge hammers and running them over with cars. But a safer way is to be patient and wait until late fall when the husks wrinkle and turn black. They’ll be much easier to break open by then. No matter how you do it, you’ll be rewarded with a delicious treat.

There are many other nuts that Missouri trees produce too, like pecans, hickory, and hazel nuts. These are all important foods for animals, from squirrels to bears. To learn more about Missouri’s nuts, and the animals that eat them, check out MDC’s online field guide at MDC.mo.gov.

If suddenly you find yourself with a new obsession over nuts, don’t think that you’re crazy. Nuts are an important part of nature, and maybe you just appreciate them more now!