Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Trees are Out to Get Me

The trees of Pennsylvania are trying to kill me.  They try to kill me every year.  Oh sure, in the fall people oooh and ahh over the magnificent beauty of fall foliage, but that's just a disguise because given the opportunity, the trees in Pennsylvania will try to kill you, too.

Leaves aren't the only thing falling from trees in the autumn.  Here in Pennsylvania there are three kinds of trees that are dropping their fruit and making people duck and take cover.  Here are the three shady culprits and their weapons of choice.

Assailant #1: Oaks

Weapon of Choice: Acorns

Sure, the mighty oak's acorns may not look like a formidable murder weapon, but that's what they want you to think.  But don't let these squirrel treats fool you, they are capable of inflicting personal injury.  Just the other day an acorn from a towering 150 year old black oak came slamming down so hard on the pavement in front of me that it made me jump and swear that the acorn hadn't just fallen, but that the tree must have thrown it at me. (Thank goodness the tree has as bad of aim as I do)  Acorns are even more deadly in great numbers.  Two years ago I was hiking on a hilly nature trail covered in a bumper crop of acorns (also known as a mine field) and nearly fell on my face several times.  

Why do oaks want to kill me?  Maybe they're taking their frustrations out on me from having squirrels steal their nuts year after year.

Assailant #2: Black Walnut
This black walnut was recently apprehended and put behind bars.
(ok, make that "behind chain link fence")

Weapon of Choice: Black walnuts

The black walnut's weapon of choice packs a punch on many levels.  First, there is the immediate danger from being hit on the head by one of these green titans.  If the black walnut tree misses you on the initial drop, it can find you for revenge later.  All you have to do is touch the black juices of the walnut husk and your hands will be stained for quite some time.  This is the walnut's version of the black spot of death, a trick that it learned from the pirates of Treasure Island.  

Even innocent fish are not immune to this villain's attacks.  The green husk of the walnut contains a chemical called juglone, which when mixed with slow-moving or stagnant water, kills all of the fish residing beneath the surface.  This is such an effective fish-killer that Native Americans were known to use black walnut fishing as a reliable way to collect fish.  It seems that the black walnut has acquired a co-conspirator...

Assailant #3: American Chestnut

Weapon of Choice: Burrs
The American chestnut may be iconic come the holiday season, but that's only because by then this tree will have run out of ammunition.  Make no mistake, right now this tree will leave you with anything but a sense of cheer.  No, right now this tree will leave you with a sharp, prickly, vegetative, green sea urchin sticking out of your cranium.  The burrs of the American chestnut are so sharp that I can barely manage to pick one up with my bare hands.  I can only imagine the pain of having one of these dropped on your head from 20 feet or greater must feel like (especially those poor bald-headed victims).  I think no greater explanation must be made as to just how greatly armed and dangerous this assailant is.  

The American chestnut may have a reason for its outlash, as the species is currently under siege by chestnut blight.  I don't blame those trees that are sick for lashing out, but those trees that are healthy are really all bark and no blight.

As you are walking the nature trails this fall, admiring the beautiful fall foliage, be sure to keep one eye open at all times and wear a hard hat.  These three assailants may be lurking in the woods near you.  The trees haven't killed me yet, but that doesn't stop them from trying.


  1. I used to rent a house in So Cal that had 4 big walnut trees. Those falling bombs on the roof of the house were quite disturbing at times. But the worst part, that was the squirrels that would take a bite or two out of each one and then throw the rest on the ground, or worse, at you when you where in "their" yard. Nothing like walking through a mine filed on the ground of walnut shells to get the mail or paper, or taking cover from the bombs falling, or being thrown from above.

  2. HA! I can relate. My black walnut tree tries to get me every time. I picked up many wheelbarrows full of the huge nuts. Thanks for the cute article.