March Dispersal of Birds & Beasts Moving Quickly

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

“Mom, I didn’t know that bananas grew on trees, and why are they so brown?” This inquiry by a kindergarten child as her mother transported her to school on a sunny morning this past week.” “Beth, bananas come from another part of the world, and those aren’t bananas.”

The child had spotted her first Kentucky Coffeetree with its seed pods dangling in full yet obscured sight, another of those natural phenomena that is obvious, yet unfamiliar. Most deciduous trees shed their leaves in September, the oaks and walnuts drop their mast about the same time. Kentucky Coffee Trees cast off their foliage early and are naked much of the year, finally losing their panicles (pods) voluntarily in late March. Pioneers used the pods as a poor substitute for coffee, hence the name. Inside the pod are three to five black seeds enclosed in gooky sticky green guck.

Years and miles ago, a telephone communication came to these writers from a college in Iowa. “Sir,” a botanist said, “You have Kentucky Coffeetrees growing on your property, the farthest-most grove in Minnesota, and we’d like to gather some of the seed pods and seeds.” (Much later we discovered the species of trees farther north, but that’s another story.) “How do you know we have them?” we asked. “Oh, we have our ways” was the response. Later I wondered on which hot summer days we’d been running sans clothing when the overhead observation was made. Since then we maintain clothing propriety even on the hottest summer days. Today, with diligent drones possible in the air overhead, one always watches one’s non-apparel.

Thus, on a bitterly cold late February day, the Iowans visited, ‘shook down’ the trees, obtained pods and seeds, and back to Iowa they returned, half the treasures to be grown and sold as nursery stock; the remainder to be retained in a cave with all manner of other tree seeds in the case that the species would eventually cease due to disease or for other reasons… a reason not to be mentioned near children; they have enough to be concerned about these challenging days.

This is March, and once again the pods/seeds are being dispersed by wind and weather, their six to
10-inch pods littering the earth under the trees. We are warned that “DOGS can be poisoned by just one seed, horses as well!” In the Henderson/LeSueur area, you will find fallen pods as far north as intersection of Hwy #6 and High Island Creek; along both the Chatfield Drive and Hwy #19 right-a-way below the Ney Center, and in copses and groves throughout the area and state.

Before a Kentucky Coffeetree seed can grow it must be ‘scarified.’ That is, the hard seed covering needs to be scratched or broken a bit. Most forest animals will not eat the ebony marble-sized seeds, but deer, in desperation in late winter, will.
In this writer’s sanctuary, where the deer gather in late winter and early spring, the Kentucky Coffeetree has taken over the area, as they are scarified as the bean passes through the white-tails digestive system, producing all kinds of little treelets.

Most area residents have noted the dispersal of birds of the skies and mammalian critters this past week. This is but the beginning. Alert phenologists eye-balled as many as a near HUNDRED bald eagles on the former LeSueur waste water treatment ponds north of Hwy #169 on Sunday, March 8th. Between the gulls, swans, duck species and the eagles… about a third mature aviators with white heads…the others, youngsters of various ages, screaming and reporting that fishing was good. We are assuming the birds were consuming dead pisces whose finny bodies ceased living over winter, as fresh cold Minnesota River water has just begun gushing into the ponds.

This may be hard to believe, much of what we write about is, but numerous reporters vouched for Sylvia and Sylvan, fabled frosted-feather Trumpeter Swans, testing the ice on Coachlight Pond, Sunday the 8th. Two miles due west, a duet of immature cygnets floated aimlessly about a ponded corn field, realizing they were not protected kids any more. We’d bet bottom dollar that they were cygnets protected and perfected by Sylvia and Sylvan just nine months earlier. Dispersal of wild and water has just begun, hold onto your rafts, as the ice mess is a’comin’ from the west!