Cheers for the buckeye: Celebrating the versatile nutWritten by Staff Reports | | firstname.lastname@example.org
By Art Weber
Director of Nature Photography
Metroparks of Toledo Area
Ohio State fans should note that those seeds that bear a rough resemblance to the head of their mascot, Brutus, are now falling to the ground in a Metropark near you.
Those, of course, would be buckeyes, beautiful, rich brown shiny seeds with a rough tan-colored scar that gives them a look reminiscent of a buck’s eye. Every true Buckeye fan — every Ohioan, for that matter — should make a point of picking a buckeye up and giving it a once-over. Its smoothness is impressive, but early Ohioans treasured them for more than that.
It’s a good bet that for a very long time now Ohioans have routinely pocketed one or two buckeyes. Today it might be for luck, or for what some consider the noble effort to spread the Ohio buckeye to new locales, including, perhaps, some key locations in a certain state to the north.
There was a time that the buckeye fruit was considered to be valuable in warding off rheumatism. Actually, it was once thought to have more than a few medical applications, although at least one source added the caution that death was a possible side effect. But used properly, different parts of the tree were thought to ease paralysis, irregular menstruation, coughs, asthma and rectal distress.
Still, more than just Michigan fans have cast aspersions on the humble Ohio buckeye, which rarely reaches more than 70 feet in height with a trunk that’s seldom greater than 2 feet in diameter. It is a tree that sometimes better resembles a shrub, a tree with a bark that if bruised can give off an odor described as nauseating. It has been nicknamed the “stinking buckeye” and the more obscure but decidedly more urbane “fetid buckeye.”
On the other hand, how many trees can make a fashion statement? Buckeyes are often strung on leather as a necklace to bring both luck and envious looks for the wearer. But that pales in comparison to the fashion statement made by buckeye hats. No one has seen any lately, but there are entries in pioneer journals referencing reducing a buckeye limb to shavings and using them to weave a hat.
That may sound strange, but the word is they lasted a long time. Longevity and style — that’s a combination that’s hard to beat.
More commonly, the wood of the buckeye tree, which is light, weak and soft, was used to make artificial limbs. The wood was easy to work and wasn’t prone to splitting. Because it doesn’t impart a taste, pioneers turned the wood for bowls and fashioned it into dinnerware.
So the buckeye is hardly worthless, as Michigan fans would like to believe, but it is poisonous — for everyone, not just Michigan fans.
Unfortunately for them, there are no wolverines to be found in the Metroparks, and, for that matter, probably not in the wilds of Michigan, either.
Ohio’s state tree wouldn’t be the buckeye, nor would OSU sport the buckeye mascot, if not for the man who would become the ninth president of the United States, William Henry Harrison.
An Ohioan, Harrison was involved in his successful campaign to become the nation’s ninth president when he was denounced in an opposition newspaper that wrote he “was better fitted to sit in a log cabin and drink hard cider than rule in the White House.”
Harrison picked up on that description and turned it to his advantage. He published an engraving of himself seated in a rustic buckeye wood cabin with a barrel of cider and rows of buckeyes hanging from pegs. His supporters carried small buckeye cabins and buckeye canes.
And that’s how it all began.
He really should have worn one of those hats made of buckeye shavings to his inauguration.
The Ohio buckeye tree is typically found in flood plains and on stream banks. One of the best places to look is along the Towpath Trail at Farnsworth Metropark in Waterville.