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Peanuts, Walnuts, cashews, pecans

Children's Gardens: Nuts to You!

by Wes Porter
Friday, April 14, 2006

Peanuts, Arachis hypogaea, are also known as monkey nuts in Europe, groundnuts in UK — and are not nuts at all. They grow underground on a plant belonging to the pea family. Although often seen more as a snack food or in confectionary in advanced cultures, in more primitive parts of the world, nut trees are still highly valued for a constant and reliable source of nourishment, whether wild or cultivated.

The Empire Loyalists, fleeing what they believed were the dubious advantages of the American Revolution, followed the Trail of the Black Walnut. They knew it grew on rich soil, suitable for agriculture and it led them to such in Upper Canada, later to be southern Ontario. Other walnut facts:

  • A substance in the roots of black walnut can kill or stunt many plants growing near by
  • The Romans used walnut leaves to kill weeds
  • Walnut husks were used to produce dyes
  • English walnuts are not originally from the Britain

Then there are other nuts:

  • Cashews are extremely poisonous until they are roasted while extracts from cashew fruit have been found to kill mosquito larvae
  • Macadamia tetrophylla is an Australian tree, the source of commercial Macadamia nuts and grown on Hawaii where film star Julie Andrews once owned a plantation of them.
  • Brazil nuts come from the Amazon rainforest tree Bertholletia excelsa and are gathered from the wild very carefully as they drop from a hundred feet aloft in cannon-ball-size cases.
  • The spice nutmeg is the ground powder of the nut from a tropical tree native to present-day Indonesia, now also grown in the West Indies
  • The oil from the West African Shea Butter Nut, Butyrospermum parkii, is valued in the cosmetic industry but comes entirely from wild trees growing in savannah woodlands.
  • Cola soft drinks obtain their flavour — and caffeine — from kola nut extracts. Cola acimunata is a small tropical African tree bearing the nuts in long pods.
  • European hazel nuts are also called "filberts" after a saint of that name on whose day in August they are supposedly ready for harvest
  • Much of the commercially raised hazel nut harvest comes from Turkey but leaves behind enormous amounts of nutshells. One suggestion is to process them into bio-fuel to power vehicles.
  • "Texans will buy anything with pecans in it," claims one authority. There are an estimated 70-million pecan nut trees planted in Texas.
  • Grimo Nut Nursery, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, advertises its telephone number as 1-905-YEH-NUTS or, less fun, their website is
  • Coconuts, along with the achenes of palms in general, deserve an entire article to themselves but, thanks to a Canadian study, it is revealed that the next time you vacation beside a tropical beach you are more likely to be killed by a falling coconut than by a shark.

An old English song claimed, "Here we go gathering nuts in May!" Nuts, despite their value for food, oil and other uses, always seem to make people laugh. In fact, a person’s head may be sometimes called his or her "nut." So we have:

  • Nuthouse
  • Off his nut
  • Nuttier than a squirrel’s nest
  • Writer Richard Gordon described someone as being, "Nuttier than a vegetarian’s cutlet"
  • Gilbert the Filbert, Colonel of the Nuts, an army officer invented by author P. G. Wodehouse

There have even been a couple of "nutty" movies"

  • Nuts in May a two-reel 1917 film with Stan Laurel
  • The Nutty Professor with Jerry Lewis

Less insultingly, we may talk about:

  • In a nut shell
  • Kernel of truth
Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. He has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.