Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mega-fruit for Megafauna?

Did you ever wonder what birding has to do with a Flora-blog? Or how birding might improve one's understanding of botany?

The answers became clear to me this week. As a Weedpicker, I am always curious about the relationship between plants and animals. And while enjoying good looks at Green Lawn Cemetery's Merlin (Jim McCormac has that story), I started asking questions about trees.

In particular, the fruit of the Kentucky Coffee Tree, Gymnocladus dioicus has always intrigued me. It is so large, and heavily armored... what could possible eat it? Certainly, no birds have bills adapted for the task.

.................Photo by Bruce Marlin credit Wiki

Or the fruit of the Osage Orange, Maclura pomifera- what utilizes this large fruit? Is its seed only distributed by rolling downhill and floating along creeks? Or by the ballistic practises of 10 year old boys?

A fascinating article addressing these questions appeared in Whit Bronaugh's article Trees that Miss the Mammoths make a compelling case for the mega-fauna being the primary seed dispersal for these two plants in particular, and others as well.

No wonder it did not add up in my brain, it has been a while since we've seen giant ground-sloths in my neighborhood, but by evolutionary standards- the 13,000 years since they became extinct is much like last Tuesday. The trees are just now starting to take notice, and may have to adapt to new seed dispersal strategies or die out. And that my friend, is the stuff of Mendel and Darwin.

To read the full article from American Forest go here.


  1. Cheryl, thank you so much for sharing this info. The article was educational, eye-opening, and thought-provoking. Like Jana said, "Fascinating!"

  2. The Kentucky Coffee Tree is desirable enough that Man is gathering seeds, scarifying them to get them to germinate, and actively growing the tree.

  3. Since these giant herbivores have been gone for 10,000+ years, they must have some other way to get their seeds to germinate. I don't think that Man has been propagating them all this time, although lately we are busy propagating it for our landscapes.