Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Beeches and bears

For most of us, “beech nut” means a baby food. However, if you’re old enough, you probably remember Beech-Nut Chewing Gum. And if you’re really old enough, Beech-Nut Coffee, Beech-Nut Macaroni, and – with a name in which the words seem to clash, Beech-Nut Peanut Butter.

For a bear, however, a real beech nut is like candy.

At this time of year, Black Bears will climb 60 or more feet to the top of an American Beech to search for its offering of food. The bear will break off nut-laden branches from the tree’s crown and stuff in them in the crotches of limbs while it picks off and eats the nuts. Old New Englanders called the resulting tangles of nutless, broken branches “bear nests.”

Why go through all this trouble when berries and other foods abound down below? The beech nut is said to be the calorically richest nut in North America, containing at least 50% fat and 20% protein. For a bear about to hunker down for a long winter’s nap, that’s an ideal food – well worth the climb and the work that includes breaking off branches up to two and a half inches in diameter.

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