Inside the Bladdernut

3 October 2021

By October the seed pods of American bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) are papery brown three-sided puffs.

American bladdernut seed pods, Schenley Park, 1 Oct 2021 (photo by Kate St. John) (background was blurred by portrait mode on my cellphone)

If you peel one apart it becomes three heart-shaped pieces. Each piece may hold one popcorn-like seed. Some pieces may be blank.

Outside of a single bladdernut paper shell (photo by Kate St. John)

Six months ago the bladders began as small dangling flowers less than 1/4 inch long. Notice the three-part leaves that give this native shrub or small tree its trifolia species name.

Flowers much magnified with trifolia leaves, Schenley Park, 17 April 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

By late July the bladders were green and very puffy. Each section had its own distinct point.

Bladdernut seed pods, 28 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

And then the bladders dried out.

Dried bladdernut, Schenley Park, 3 Oct 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

American bladdernuts put so much effort into seed pods that it’s surprising to find they can spread by suckers, especially in their favorite habitats of floodplain woods or stream banks in eastern North America.

Range map of American bladdernut (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Visit Schenley Park this month to see the bladdernuts. Pull a seed pod apart and look inside.

(photos by Kate St. John, map from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)

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