Quercus mongolica (Mongolian oak or the Shandong silk oak)! Did you know that the Chinese not only produce silk from mulberry trees, but also from Mongolian oak trees? The Chinese oak silkworm, Antheraea pernyi, is the worker employed according to Food Plants of China! See https://academic.oup.com/jinsectscience/article/10/1/180/887115
The Mongolian oak nuts were also sometimes eaten and the leaves were used for tea, boiled with the fruits of Siberian crabapple, Malus baccata!
Kurrajong is an Australian tree, Brachychiton populneus, which along with other species of the genus make interesting house plants due to their interesting leaves. Kurrajong leaves resemble poplar leaves as the epithet populneus suggests. It’s a common tree of sandy plains in Eastern Australia. The seeds are remarkably nutritious and were popular Aborigine tucker (wild gathered food). It is unlikely I will ever be able to harvest seed of this tree in the Malvaceae (mallow family), but Rowan White on the Radix Root Crops FB group reminded me that the swollen roots of young trees could also be eaten. My tree wasn’t exactly young at 9 years (seed propagated along with Brachychiton acerifolius), when I first decided to have a go in 2012, at the same time as I moved it to a bigger pot…
There were 3 young roots worth trying so I harvested them and baked them in their skins together with potatoes. They seem to need a bit longer than potatoes. The skins peeled easily off after baking and they were crispy with a good mild taste. If you have a ready supply of seed, they can be grown and harvested a bit like carrots when quite young!
This spring the tree died (at 15 years old) with no sign of life in the above ground parts, but when disposing of the plant I noticed that the young roots looked healthy, so I harvested them and repotted the remainder of the root to see if it might resprout and after several weeks in the window sill it now has fresh leaves, so not dead after all!
I didn’t get round to eat the young roots…they were left inside for a month and looked withered and inedible, but cutting in to one it looked good inside and indeed it was tasty and almost free from fibre….so we ate it in a stir-fry dish last night!
Back in the pre-Facebook days, I remember there was a forum for unusual nut trees and the Norwegian monkey puzzle trees were considered to be the most hardy and I remember receiving a lot of requests from folk wanting seed from our provenience. I had to disappoint them as they weren’t easy to come by……but I did finally get a few seed via a contact from the botanical garden in Bergen who told me that a friend of hers had actually climbed a tree and harvested nuts!!!! Was her friend a monkey? The tree was located in Os, just south of Bergen. They germinated in spring 2007 and I attempted to overwinter outside in a plastic greenhouse open at the top and with a leaf mulch around the roots. I’d heard rumours that larger trees sold from a local nursery for an exorbitant price had survived (never confirmed for my area where winter temperatures can go down to -20C). They survived until mid-March 2018, when I took the picture, but it didn’t make it through a subsequent very cold period ☹ I didn’t try again.
A minimum of about -15C seems to be about the temperature limit here and this limits the area they can be grown to a narrow strip outermost along almost the entire Norwegian coast it turns out. One of the biggest surprises in my gardening life was to discover a monkey puzzle growing in Skavberg nursery not far from the arctic city of Tromsø close to 70°N!! Owner Bjørn Thon was also growing Maori carrots (Aciphylla spp.) from New Zealand and many other plants I’d never seen before in Norway. Bjørn has been a long-term collaborator of the Tromsø Arctic-Alpine Botanical Garden and had been on collection trips to South America. His monkey puzzle had actually been from nuts bought on the market at Puerto Montt in Chile rather than Norwegian trees. The botanical garden, located in a more exposed site than the nursery, also tried but failed, the young plants dying after a few years.
I also have a Brazilian monkey puzzle (Paraná pine) overwintered in my cold cellar without lights at about 3-4C and bring it up as a Xmas tree for a couple of weeks 😊 See http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=15467
In December 2004, I went to a remote sensing conference in Concepcion in Chile in my other life as an ocean wave climatologist!
I took some holiday to experience some of the native edibles. One of the main objectives was to experience the ancient old growth Monkey Puzzle forest (Araucaria araucana) and I hoped also to see nuts (piñones) for sale on Mapuche (the indigenous people) markets. It was probably the wrong time of the year (spring) and I didn’t see any nuts. However, after a failed attempt to get up into the main part of the Conguillío National Park due to late laying snow, I did a long hike into the Huerquehue National Park where I walked amongst the old growth monkey puzzle trees that are sometimes known as Umbrella or Toilet Brush trees as old trees (they can reach 1,000 years old!) only have a few branches at the top. Nowadays, it is an endangered species and logging is no longer allowed. It is also the national tree of Chile. A significant part of the diet of the native Pehuenche people (one of the Mapuche peoples) were the nutritious nuts and their name means simply people of the monkey puzzle seeds (Pewen).
Andrew McMillion kindly picked me up early on Friday morning from the night train at Oslo airport and we drove together to the location of the KVANN / Norwegian Seed Savers annual meeting in Leikanger on the Sognefjord. As we were to arrive earlier than the other board members, I suggested going to Balestrand, about an hour further on as I’d heard that Norway’s largest Monkey Puzzle tree (apeskrekk) could be seen there! Andrew didn’t hesitate as he wanted also to go to Balestrand as he actually had family roots just a kilometer away from the tree!! There was much more than that though! It was an amazing day, first the wonderful trip over the mountains in perfect weather…to see what else we experienced, see the album!!
Documentation of yet another amazing day during last week’s Perennialen III in Hardanger!! Pictures taken on a fantastic 6-7 hour round trip from Eirik Lillebøe Wiken and Hege Iren Aasdal Wiken’s house to their shieling (støl or seter in Norwegian). We took our time botanising on the way up, passing through different types of forest on the way up, from alder (or), ash (ask), planted spruce (gran), lime (lind), elm (alm), hazel (hassel), aspen (osp) and birch (bjørk) at the highest levels. Lower down, old apple trees witnessed that these steep slopes had at one time been worked for fruit production, no easy matter….
Eirik and Hege are planning to rejuvenate and replant some of this area and have planted a multispecies forest garden above and below the house, probably one of the most dramatic forest gardens in the world (more later).
Great excitement yesterday morning (11th July 2017) to hear the familiar call of nutcrackers in the garden of the rectory where I’m staying here in Hurdal! Excited to see cones falling from the tree (cut off by a nutcracker), and lots of empty cones on the ground! More information with the pictures!
Most people into permaculture in Scandinavia know of Lars Westergaard’s nursery in Denmark as one of the best sources of a range of hard to get (and unique, from Lars’ own selection work) fruit and nut trees. Lars has been working with production of organic plants for many years and commercially since 2009. It seems much longer! He specialises in walnuts, heartnuts, hazel, sweet chestnut, peach, mulberries, figs, haskaps and many more! I’ve been wanting to visit for some years and an opportunity finally arose after I’d given a couple of courses near Copenhagen in August 2016. It was a pity that Lars was “distracted” by several customers during our visit, so we didn’t have too much time to talk together…..but I was impressed by what I saw. Thanks to Aiah Noack for taking me…and looking forward to his plants becoming available in Norway soon :)