Sunday, November 08, 2015

Who Put the Honey in Honey Locust?

A quick tidbit here about the pods that fall from honey locust trees around town. There's a honey locust near the old gas station at the Princeton Shopping Center, and another at the entry to the Princeton Healthcare Center just up Harrison Street. Each produces lots of pods that fall and sit on the ground uneaten.

The tree's scientific name, Gleditsia triacanthos, has always jumped immediately to mind since field botany days. Maybe sweetness helps the memory, a sweetness that can be found in the inner lining of the pod. I finally tried it this fall, and found it tasted very strongly of something very familiar, but I couldn't say what. Some flavor of bubble gum? My younger daughter tried it and supplied the answer.

Dried mango.

Of course, do your research and make a positive identification before you try eating anything out there, and there's not a whole lot of it when you break open the pod, but it's fun to think there's a taste treat akin to dried mango going begging in well-traveled spots all over Princeton.

Update, Nov. 9: I forgot to answer the question posed in the title. The answer as to why something sweet is not being eaten, by wildlife or people, is the same as when I posted about the honey locust's seemingly useless thorns two years ago, and is most finely stated in this succinct article: The Trees That Miss the Mammoths. The article will be transformative for many, and comes with a warning:
Warning: Reading this article may cause a whiplash-inducing paradigm shift. You will no longer view wild areas the same way. Your concepts of “pristine wilderness” and “the balance of nature” will be forever compromised. You may even start to see ghosts.
The article bases its view in part on the research of Dan Janzen, whose course on ecology I took back in the '70s. Megafauna like mammoths, giant sloths and mastodons would have eaten massive amounts of vegetation, certainly creating much more open habitats than we have currently. Rereading the article, the thought occurs that the American Indians', who certainly helped bring about the extinction of America's megafauna, may have learned to do frequent burnings of the landscape in part to sustain the more open habitats that would otherwise have been lost after megafauna disappeared.

Thus, in a scattering of seed pods across a groomed piece of turf, can be seen the challenge of defining what is natural as the pieces of the earth's great ecological puzzle continue to be lost.

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