Sep 22 2011
While hiking last Sunday I found this leaf and two fruit pods at Moraine State Park. I walked past them three times before I paused to marvel at their size and color — and then I picked them up.
The leaf is nine inches long, larger than my outstretched hand. The seed pods are lumpy with bright red-orange seeds. The one on the right has ripened to a waxy rose-pink. The lefthand pod is overripe. Its skin is drying and the seeds are falling off.
These specimens fell from a Cucumbertree, also known as a Cucumber Magnolia (Magnolia acuminata), the most winter hardy of all magnolias. It grows wild all the way to Canada but is found only as a single tree here and there in the woods. In the spring its flowers are two inches long and green, not showy. After pollination they form dark green seed pods that look like cucumbers and gave the tree its name.
I’ve never seen the “cucumbers.” They’re always at the top of the tree. What I do see are their ripened forms which would have stayed in the canopy but for the work of chipmunks and squirrels.
Last Sunday the squirrels and chipmunks were climbing trees and biting off the stems of fruits and nuts, letting them drop to the forest floor to be gathered later. My hike was punctuated by a random rain of acorns, hickory nuts and these large heavy fruits. I was lucky I wasn’t hit.
Instead I’ve left behind a disappointed squirrel whose food I collected from the North Country Trail.
(photo by Kate St. John)