Guest Contributor: Georgia Silvera Seamans, Founder, Local Nature Lab; Director, Washington Square Park Eco Projects

All photos courtesy of Georgia Silvera Seamans

Kousa Dogwood, Ripe and Maturing Fruits
Dawn Redwood, Immature Cones
Honeylocust, Ripening Seedpods

One of my favorite botanical quotes is “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower,” from Albert Camus. But Camus missed an equally wondrous seasonal phase: the maturation of fruits. Ripe fruit delight your eyes (and stomach too — but proceed with knowledge). Mature fruits and cones feed wildlife and fuel up migrating birds.

Volunteers and I have been monitoring seasonal changes in a subset of trees in Washington Square Park since 2019. Our project is a member of the National Phenology Network and we use Nature’s Notebook to record our data. The changes we track are leaves, flowers, fruits, and ripe fruits.

I eagerly await the start of the season as winter transitions to spring. Buds begin to swell and burst, revealing leaves and/or flowers. Some species bloom then leaf out, while others green up and then flower. The opening of a flower whether showy or demure is wonderful. Petals unfurl to reveal pistils and stamens in perfect formation, or on their own in imperfect flowers.

People turn up in droves to photograph the flower show of cherries, magnolias and crabapples. They’ve overlooked earlier and tiny flowers of our maples, elms and oaks blooming above their heads.

Then, as leaves achieve their mature size and summer color, people become less aware of the individuality of trees. Trees once again become a background to people’s lives, until they need to huddle beneath them for cooling shade. Among the green leaves (so diverse in shape, size, and shade of green) are the young fruits—signs of successful pollination and fertilization of earlier flowers.

Each species has its own flower to fruit maturation timeline. Right now, Kousa dogwood has both immature and ripe fruits on their branches. If you have a goldenrain tree in your area, their mature camel-brown capsules contain small black seeds. The boughs of crabapples are laden with maturing fruit, but they won’t draw the birds for another month. I have watched Hermit Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, American Robin, and Gray Catbird feast on the ripe crabapples in Washington Square Park. Sparrows and House Finches will fill the canopy of hawthorns when their pomes ripen this fall.

The new-leaf green color in the crowns on Japanese pagoda tree are pearl-necklace seedpods. Honeylocust pods have started to twist and brown with age. The long seedpods of northern catalpa resemble green beans and are visible among the large heart-shaped leaves of this species.

Peer under the leaves of star magnolia and katsura tree to discover knobby aggregate fruits and mini-banana-shaped pods, respectively. The cones of the dawn redwood and the bald cypress don’t have a hint of brown on them. The fruits of the tulip tree and the sweetgum are still green, as are the acorns of the swamp white oak.

Take a stroll through your local green space and look for fruits before the dazzle of fall foliage.

Northern Catalpa Seedpods Ripening
Star Magnolia, Immature Fruit
Swamp White Oak, Large Immature Acorn
Sweetgum Seedpods, Immature
Tulip Tree, Immature Fruit