The Indiana Insider Blog

The Fruits of Fall

ndiana Tourism welcomes today’s guest blogger, Dana Gehlhausen:

Dana Gehlhausen - DNRDana Gehlhausen is an Interpretive Naturalist at Patoka Lake for Indiana State Parks and Reservoirs. Dana studied Wildlife Biology at Ball State University and has worked at Patoka Lake since 2006, where she started as an intern. She always enjoys time spent outdoors, and a few of her favorite activities include archery, hiking and kayaking.

Go outside and take a look around at the trees and vegetation in your area. Do you notice the preparation they are doing for the coming seasons?

This is the perfect time of year for collecting berries, mast, seeds, and other varieties of fall fruits. No I’m not talking about pumpkins here, I’m referring to that of our oaks, hickories, pines, persimmon trees, and even vining plants.

Many plants right here in Indiana serve great purposes for our wildlife populations. Oak and hickory nuts are a vital part of a squirrel’s diet. The fruits of  trees have also held many purposes for us as well. Looking back through history these gifts of fall gave local pioneers many useful natural products that we can still use today!

Noise maker from a walnut shell

Walnut shells were used by children in the 1800's for making toys and noisemakers.

Walnuts that have fallen and turned black can be used as a dye and even as ink for a quill pen. Children of the Patoka River valley used the dried outer shells of walnuts for creating toys and noise makers. Acorn caps were used as well to make whistles. This was done by placing your thumbs in a particular way over the opening of the cap. Come to the Patoka Lake Visitor Center and I will show you how this is done. It can be a little tricky at first but once you get the hang of it, you will never forget. This is one of my favorite natural tools to teach scouts and kids about because the acorn tops can be used as survival whistles rather than just a toy!

Other fruits though less purposeful for us provide substantial use for regermination of the plant itself. The vine pictured below, is that of Virginia Creeper, a plant that can be easily confused with Poison Ivy. Both of these vines use berries to help their species carry on into the future.

Virginia Creeper and Berries

Virginia Creeper with berries growing up the Raptor Shelter at the Patoka Lake Visitor Center.

There are many wild fruits and seeds being produced right now in Southern Indiana. Take a look around outside and get crafty! This weekend at the Patoka Lake Visitor Center we will be conducting a Handmade Basket Weaving Workshop using some of nature’s fine materials. Anyone is welcome to participate in this workshop that will start at 9 am and end around noon. Pre-registration and a program fee of $35 is required to make your very own Napkin Basket.

Basket for workshop 2011

Handmade napkin basket that will be made by participants this weekend during the workshop.

There will be another basket workshop the following weekend on Saturday, October 15th. Call the Patoka Lake Visitor Center for more information and to pre-register at 812.685.2447.

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Written by : The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) manages a wide variety of state-owned lands that are available for all sorts outdoor recreation activities. Staff are charged with managing and interpreting the natural and cultural resources of these sites, and with regulating lake and stream usage, fish, wildlife, oil, gas and coal and Indiana's archeological and historic resources. For more information about the DNR or careers in natural resources, visit dnr.IN.gov.