Beech Nuts are a Real Thing, and They’re Edible

Until I moved to the Ozarks, the phrase ‘beech nut’ only brought to mind a certain flavor of chewing tobacco. I’m not even sure that it’s a flavor. Maybe it’s just a brand name or something. I’m not a tobacco chewer, lol, so haven’t really paid close attention, but that’s what I thought of when I heard the words. However, I’ve seen real beech nuts since then and they really are nuts from a beech tree.

Additionally, they’re supposed to be a nutritious snack that can be foraged while out in the woods. I haven’t tried that yet, but will go out to see if I can find some today. You shouldn’t eat these raw, though. They need to be roasted, like chestnuts, to deactivate the saponin glycosides that are naturally present. Saponins are what gives soap it’s lather. Many seeds, like quinoa, have a saponin coating on them, nature’s way to protect themselves from predation. A few raw ones won’t hurt you, but a handful might cause some painful stomach upset.

Unlike the Hop Hornbeam I wrote about last week, at least I don’t think you won’t get a finger full of stickers when you try to gather beech nuts. The nut husks do look a bit prickly, but I don’t think they’ll be so painful to get at as the hornbeams.

The tree is distinctive in the riparian forests of the Buffalo River valley and else where around here. The easiest way to identify them is by their smooth light gray trunks. Here and there on the trunks of older trees are little clusters of tiny branches that seem to have never developed into limbs. Mature trees can get quite large in trunk girth, but most of the ones I see are much younger than that.

After most of the leaves have fallen from other trees, beech seems to cling to the past. Sometimes, they still have leaves when next season’s green starts coming on. They’re almost always still fully leafed here in winter snows.

If you touch the trunk, the bark almost feels like skin, rather than bark because it’s so smooth.

There’s plenty of them to see in the Boxley, Ponca, and anywhere along the Buffalo river area. There are even beech forests here.

Beech forest occurs on north facing slopes in moist ravines in the western portion of the Buffalo National River. 

https://www.nps.gov/buff/learn/nature/forests.htm

Where beech trees are abundant, it indicates good soil with access to a permanent water table. Most of the time they’re an understory tree within a predominant oak and hickory forest. There are beech trees at Hare’s Hideout Primitive Campground, too.

Beech nuts almost ready to harvest.
Beech nuts almost ready to harvest. © 2019 Robert Christopher

If you’re in far northwest Arkansas and want to see a very large and beautiful specimen beech, with easy access and clearly identified, there is one in the front parking area of the Compton Gardens in Bentonville.

About the Author
Madison Woods is a local artist who makes her watercolor paints from the Ozark rocks.

Something Shady is Going on with the Hop Hornbeam

Probably, the first tree that comes to mind at the mention of the Upper Buffalo River Valley is beech. And we do have a lot of those iconic trees. But I figured I’d talk about one that gets a bit less appreciation. Hop Hornbeam, or Ostrya virginiana, as it is known by the scientific name. Later I’ll probably get around to the beech trees, as they’re my personal favorite, to be honest.

Hop Hornbeam, also called ironwood, or muscle-wood trees, are small under-story trees. The average hiker is probably not even going to notice them most of the time. But they have good qualities worth knowing. It’s also possible they have a dark side – ooohhh fascinating. I’m digging a little deeper into that dark side today, but first I’ll get this post going. I’ll come back to that later.

The Hop in Hop Hornbeam

It’s the seedpods that look like hops (you know, the herb for making beer). They’re not the same thing, though. Here’s one the Mr. of Hare’s Hideout plucked not too long ago:

A seed pod from the hop hornbeam tree.
A seed pod from the hop hornbeam tree. Photograph ©2019 Robert Christopher

Good things about Hop Hornbeam Trees

If you’re hiking through the woods and need to reach out and grab a tree for support, say you’re slip-sliding down an embankment and would rather slow down a bit. Well, a hop hornbeam tree would be a good choice. They’re not too big so just right for grabbing. The bark is smooth, so no bloody fingers. And the tree is incredibly strong, so it most likely won’t let you down.

Most people don’t care much about them one way or the other. But if you add a few sticks of their dried wood to your fire to get it going, whew, it’ll warm up the house quick! It’s a dense wood.

They don’t ever get very large.

Some shady business

The Mr. (that would be Robert) snatched one of these pods through the car window on the way to school one morning. Well, the young Miss (that would be his daughter, Casey) wanted to inspect it. So he passed it over to her. So here’s where it starts getting shady.

As she began pulling the petals apart on the pod, the thing shot little stickers into her fingers.

Say What??

In all the reading I’ve done on these trees, none of them ever mention such a bad behavior from the pods. All I’ve read talks about how nice and edible the seeds are. They supposedly make a good survival forage.

Here’s the Question

Have YOU ever pulled one of these apart to look inside them? Did they fill your fingertips with little clear stickers? I’m heading down to the tree I know on my driveway in a few minutes to see if that one does. I’ll report back shortly. I’m wearing gloves, just in case…

DON’T TRY IT!

Okay- so I just did my little bit of investigating. How is it that NONE OF THE SITES MENTION THIS?!!! I did wear gloves, and I did carry them in a bag, just to be on the safe side. But some of the wicked little needles found their way into my skin anyway.

HOW IS THIS EDIBLE?? Just goes to show that you can’t just read things on the internet and take it for granted that they know what they’re talking about. Yes, the seeds may be edible. But you’re gonna suffer something terrible to get at them. My recommendation is that you don’t even try this at home. But if you want to see what’s inside those curious little hop things hanging on the trees, make sure you wear gloves. You’ll have to pull the petals apart, and then look closely on your fingers to see the needles. They’re clear like little blades of fiberglass. Just waiting to find some nice skin to embed into. If you didn’t wear gloves, you won’t need to wonder if what I’m saying is real. You’ll know. Trust me.

Links for more info:

https://www.seacoastonline.com/news/20170801/hop-hornbeams-have-their-own-unique-charm

https://www.fredericknewspost.com/archive/eastern-hop-hornbeam-and-american-hornbeam/article_07e1a0bb-5583-5e97-b907-31211acd73f8.html

About the Author
Madison Woods is a local artist who makes her watercolor paints from the Ozark rocks.

Three Hard to See Birds that are Often Heard in Northwest Arkansas

If you love birds, Hare’s Hideout Primitive Campground offers superb opportunities for viewing them. Bring your binoculars and camera and head on out here! Lots of birds live in northwest Arkansas, and you can spot most of them on our acreage of Ozark mountain wilderness. But there’s a few birds that are hard to see. That’s not because they’re few in number, but that they just seem to like staying hidden more often than not.

Often Heard but Seldom Seen

Sometimes it’s hard to get a glimpse of certain birds. It’s easy enough to know they’re there, though. Just listen for them. These birds present a challenge to actually see:

  • whippoorwill
  • yellow-billed cuckoo
  • owls

Hard to See Birds

Just because they’re seldom seen, that doesn’t mean you’ll never see them. Here’s a red-morph eastern screech owl that fledged the nest earlier this year. While the mom was setting eggs, I saw her daily. Then when the young ‘uns hopped out of the nest, I saw them for that day. After that I haven’t seen them again. But I hear them at night.

Screech owls make a few different sounds, but you’ll understand the reason they’re named ‘screech’ once you hear their namesake sound. Click here for a YouTube recording of the various sounds of these hard to see birds.

Owls are generally hard to see birds, but I got to see a few screech owls real good once.
© 2019 Madison Woods

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

The name I grew up hearing for this bird is ‘rain crow’. And it does seem to be true that I hear them mostly when it’s about to rain. They have a strange sound. For birds that are hard to see, this one seems to be one of the hardest for me to spot. It was only this year that I saw the first one, after hearing them all of my life. And then I saw it three or four times over a few days span. Haven’t seen it again since.

Definitely a hard to see bird. Rain crows make an interesting sound, and I hear them often but never see them.
Yellow-Billed Cuckoo © 2019 Terry Stanfill

Whippoorwill

This is one I have seen only once or twice, ever. I hear them every year when mating season starts in May. One of the old guys around here told me that it’s time to plant corn when you hear the whippoorwills start calling. There’s a recording at my website if you’d like to hear it. This one must be so seldom seen by my friend Terry Stanfill the photographer, that I can’t even find a photo of one in his Facebook feed to share.

I recently found out we have another ‘will’ sort of bird called a Chuck-will’s-widow. It sounds sort of like the whippoorwill. You can hear one of these here at this link. I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard this one or not. If I did, I probably thought it was a whippoorwill.

How About You? What Hard to See Birds Do You Know?

What are the hard to see birds you know about?

About the Author
Madison Woods is a local artist who makes her watercolor paints from the Ozark rocks.

Ponca, Arkansas is an artists’ and photographer’s dream destination!

Ponca, Arkansas is one of the most visited nature destinations in northwest Arkansas. And guess what? It’s right around the corner from Hare’s Hideout. Many people come to hike the local trails or to put in kayaks and canoes at the Buffalo River. During summer, the low-water bridge is a popular swimming hole. A lot of people go there to capture beautiful photographs. I go there to paint.

Photos from Ponca

One of my friends, Terry Stanfill, makes regular trips from his home in far northwest Arkansas to Boxley Valley and Ponca. Here’s a few of his photos.

At the Ponca low-water bridge.
From the Ponca low-water bridge. This is the same scene, and much better photo, than mine from down on the gravel at a slightly different angle in the photo a few paragraphs below.
Photograph © 2019 Terry Stanfill. Used by permission.
Old structure in Boxley Valley on the way to Ponca.
Old structure in Boxley Valley on the way to Ponca.
Photograph © 2019 Terry Stanfill. Used by permission.
A juvenile Yellow Crowned Night Heron on the rocks at Ponca.
A juvenile Yellow Crowned Night Heron on the rocks at Ponca.
Photograph © 2019 Terry Stanfill. Used by permission.

If you’re on Instagram, you can follow the hashtag #poncaarkansas to see a lot more images of this local little hot spot for nature. while you’re there, follow @hareshideout, too! If you’re a photographer and you’d like to share one of your photos from Ponca on this page, email it to me and I’ll get it posted.

Plein air painting

I’m just beginning to learn the art of plein air painting and there’s nowhere better to set up an easel. Last week I went down to the low-water bridge at the Ponca access point. Since it was on a week day, it wasn’t crowded. In fact, I was the only one there. I started working on a watercolor of this scene. I didn’t get very far on it before I had to pack up and leave, but I’ll go back next week to finish up, or I’ll just finish using the photograph I took before I left.

A plein air painting in progress, waiting to go back on location at Ponca, Arkansas.
An unfinished painting I started on location at the Ponca low-water bridge. My paints are made from Ozark pigments and the water I used in this one is straight from the Buffalo river at my feet. It’s hard to beat this setting when it comes to nature art!
(Pssst! I do pigment foraging field trips over at Hare’s Hideout. Email me if you’re interested in that.)
Photograph © 2019 Madison Woods. Used by permission.

How to get there

Ponca is on Hwy 43 between Boxley Valley and Compton. If you’re coming north from I-40, exit north on Hwy 21. Take a right on Hwy. 43 when you get to Boxley Valley. If you’re heading south on Hwy. 21 from Hwy. 412, go south through Kingston and pass the Hare’s Hideout entrance to go on down the hill into the river valley. Take a left on Hwy. 43.

The quaint little town of Kingston, Arkansas is not far from Ponca.
The quaint little town of Kingston, Arkansas is not far from Ponca.
Photograph © 2019 Terry Stanfill. Used by permission.

You can also get here from Harrison if you take Hwy. 43 west out of Harrison. If you reach Hwy. 21, you went too far.

Here’s a map embed from Google. That’ll make it a lot easier.

Campground near Ponca

If you want to stay around for a little while, consider camping at Hare’s Hideout! We’re just back up Hwy. 21 going north toward Kingston. Literally, just around the corner. Of course, a block corner out here in the Ozarks might be a bit different than your usual city block. It’s all relative! But seriously. We’re only a few miles away.

Hare's Hideout campground is right around the corner from Ponca, Arkansas.

About the Author
Madison Woods is a local artist who makes her watercolor paints from the Ozark rocks.

Swallowtails and skippers are two of our local birds and butterflies.

8 Butterflies of Ponca, Arkansas

There are lots of reasons folks seek out nature. During summer there are butterflies to find, and that’s always a worthy reason! Here are 8 butterflies of Ponca. Of course, they’re not just present in Ponca, or even Boxley Valley, but you’ll see them in many areas of North America. However we do have an abundance of habitats and wildflowers, and that means the chances are great that you’ll get to spot some of the following little jewels.

Lots of nature right here around Hare’s Hideout

It’s enough to indulge anyone’s shutterbug tendencies. The following photos are all from Terry Stanfill and are shared here by permission. These are only a few of the different butterflies that frequent our area. Terry can’t possibly capture them all, though, or maybe he could… but it would take me a long time to go through his millions of photos to find them. So you’ll just have to come out and see what other species you can find.

Butterflies of Ponca

zebra swallowtail
Zebra swallowtail

Zebra swallowtails can be found anywhere pawpaw trees grow. They lay eggs on the undersides of pawpaw tree leaves, so you’ll only see them where those trees grow. Here in the valley we have a lot of pawpaw trees in the deep, shady woods. Adult butterflies will drink nectar from a variety of flowers. If you’ve ever tried to get a photograph of this particular butterfly, you’ll know how hard it is to keep up with them as they flit from spot to spot!

American Lady and a skipper

There are Painted Ladies and American Ladies and they both look very much alike. Click here for a great page to help you tell the difference.

Swallowtails and skippers are two of our local birds and butterflies.
Swallowtail and Skipper
Monarchs are one of the celebrated butterflies of Ponca.
A lovely monarch.

Monarch butterflies will only lay eggs on milkweed plants, but they will drink nectar from any sweet source. These butterflies migrate to and from Mexico every year. They’ll each live long enough, if they’re lucky, to make one trip to and from.

If you didn’t already notice, those 6 butterflies (don’t forget to count the skippers) are feasting on the same type of flower’s nectar. That’s echinacea, probably E. purpurea, and the butterflies all seem to love it! It’s one of our local medicinal plants. At one time, these flowers nearly disappeared from our roadsides because folks over-harvested them. So please enjoy the flowers without picking them if you see any during your visit.

Question mark – that’s actually the name!
Ruby spot damsel fly, not one of the butterflies of Ponca, but still pretty!
Ha! Not a butterfly.

No, the image above isn’t a butterfly but a damsel fly. We have really pretty iridescent black ones, too. I really like these, so decided to throw in a picture of one from Terry’s photos over at his FB page.

Come Photograph the Butterflies of Ponca Yourself!

You can pitch a tent or bring your small camper and stay overnight in this gorgeous area. The Hare’s Hideout driveway is on the right just before the brake check pullover on Hwy 21 as you head down the big hill into Boxley Valley. If you’re coming up from the other direction, it’s the first left after the pullover. Look for our colorful sign on the gate and our red and yellow mailbox post. Book your stay through Hipcamp or call us directly. All the info is at the home page.

About the Author
Madison Woods is a local artist who makes her watercolor paints from the Ozark rocks.