I talk to trees and animals. We have interesting conversations about food, weather, and love. They sometimes can predict the future.
~Shan Sa, author
There is perhaps some truth in that sentiment, at least as far as the weather goes. Or so it seems based on the many tales and proverbs about how to predict the future weather based on some natural phenomenon.
Red sky at night near Pocosin Lakes NWR on 1-31-16 (click photos to enlarge)
Most of us have heard the saying, “Red sky at night sailor’s delight, red sky in morning, sailor’s warning”. Well, there does seem to be a scientific basis behind that particular weather lore. In the mid-latitudes, weather systems generally move from west to east. High pressure systems (good weather) tend to produce an atmosphere near the surface that is cloud-free, but that contains a lot of dust and other particles. As low-angle (dawn or dusk) sunlight passes through that type of air, it tends to scatter the longer wavelengths (the red colors) more efficiently, meaning we see reddish colors. If that happens at sunset (looking west toward incoming atmospheric conditions), that generally means a high pressure system is headed our way, bringing good weather. If we see it looking east at sunrise, it means the high pressure has passed and a low pressure system (bringing not-so-good weather) may be approaching. Above is a sunset image from earlier this year, an especially fiery red sky in Eastern North Carolina. I checked the weather history
for that location and it was clear the next day, as you might expect from that “red sky at night”.
Ripe persimmon fruit
But what about other, perhaps less scientifically rigorous, folklore? I stumbled on an interesting one this year that I had not heard before – using split open persimmon seeds (Diospyros virginiana) to predict winter weather.
Persimmon seeds in coyote scat at Mason Farm
It all started with a walk at Mason Farm Biological Reserve a few weeks ago. I found some coyote scat containing numerous persimmon seeds. Over the years, I have seen evidence of many species of mammals that seem to really like persimmons (raccoon, opossum, foxes, and beer drinkers at Fullsteam brewery
in Durham – their First Frost persimmon beer is quite tasty). It started me wondering about whether, like in some other types of seed, it is beneficial from the plant’s point of view for a critter to ingest the fruit, pass the seeds through its gut, and then deposit them in its scat. It certainly is in terms of seed dispersal, but what about germination success? For certain types of seeds with extremely hard coverings, it helps them germinate if they first pass through the physical abrasion in the crop of a bird, or the acidic intestines of a bird or mammal digestive system. I turned to Google and found a research paper
stating that persimmon seeds do have enhanced germination rates when a raccoon eats them, but not-so-much when they are eaten by a coyote. Different degrees of acidity I suppose.
Shapes inside split persimmon seeds (left to right – spoon, spoon, knife, spoon, knife?)
But while looking that up, I also found a link about persimmon seeds and the weather, then another, and then even more. I was surprised how often this popped up as a topic. The lore states that if you split open the seeds from a ripe persimmon fruit (usually they ripen after cold weather starts in late October) you will see different shapes resembling our meal-time utensils – a knife, a fork, or a spoon. I collected a couple of persimmons still hanging on a tree and decided to check it out. First of all, it isn’t easy to split open a persimmon seed…you have to get the gooey (but tasty) pulp off or they are simply too slippery to hold. After finally splitting a few and looking at the shapes, it appears that my seeds contained either spoons or knives. Various references interpret these shapes as having a meaning for the upcoming winter season: a knife signifies the winter will be bitterly cold, with winter winds cutting through you like a knife; a fork means a winter with milder conditions, and snow will likely be light and fluffy; a spoon means cold, wet and heavy snow that requires shoveling. After splitting several seeds, I discovered it isn’t always that easy to tell which utensil is represented. And, unfortunately, there isn’t much data to suggest this type of prediction is particularly reliable anyway. But it is still fun. You also have to remember that before sophisticated computer models of weather patterns, and the other technology we now have at our disposal, people relied on things they could readily observe and interpret to try to predict important natural events like the severity of an upcoming winter.
A spoon inside a persimmon seed supposedly signifies a cold winter with some heavy snow
While searching online, I did find a local (NC) source for some of these predictions, a woman known as the Persimmon Lady (gotta love that moniker). She is all about appreciating persimmons in folklore (and in recipes) and she makes annual predictions (including predictions for the Farmer’s Almanac) on the winter weather based on persimmon seed cutlery. Based on seeds collected in Eastern and Central NC thus far this season, she predicts the following for the winter of 2016-2017:
“Eastern appears to be in for a nice mild winter (indicated by the forks) with a little bit of precipitation towards the end, however, Central is looking at a wet cold and snowy/icy winter (indicated by the knife and spoons)”.
So, there you have it…look what finding some poop on the trail can lead to…let the cold and snow begin!