This section is from the "The New Student's Reference Work Volume 5: How And Why Stories" by Elinor Atkinson.
Chestnuts are very near relatives of the oaks. The cups are closed burs, very stiff and woody, with prickly thorns. You have to let Jack Frost open them for you. He can split them into four leaves lined with brown velvet, and make you a present of three dark brown, flattened nuts with silky tails. They are very sweet when roasted by a winter fire. The squirrel is out before you are after chestnuts. Did you know he often peels his nuts, stripping the horny shell away, before storing it in his high pantry. He puts away chinquapins, those tiny American cousins of the chestnuts. He likes the little three-cornered, thin-shelled beechnuts that grow, three together, in a prickly bur. He gathers hazel nuts, too, picking them from the flaring, clustered husks that grow on low bushes.
Would you think the squirrels could manage the hard shelled walnuts, butternuts and hickory nuts? The black walnut has a thick, stony, wrinkled, black shell, and it is buried in a tough green husk with no partings. You have to let these husks dry a little and turn brown. Then you pound them off. They stain your fingers brown. The butternut is a white walnut. Our grandmothers used to dye homespun cloth brown with butternut husks. The hickory nut is smooth, white and a thinner shelled and sweeter kerneled nut than its cousins. It pops out of a thick, four-parted, smooth husk. The pecan, a very high bred southern cousin of the walnut, leaves its wide-open husk on the tree awhile, when the nut falls. It has a thin, pale, smooth, oval shell and a fine, sweet kernel.
You can easily prove that all these nuts, and the English walnut, are very near relations by cracking them. All of them have two fat, wrinkled seed-leaves, joined through a hole in the middle of a thin partition wall. The leaves are not twin nuts. They are just the two parts of one seed. You know beans and pease seed have two leaves that split when the plant begins to grow. So has the acorn, the chestnut, the buckeye, and the seeds of all plants with net-veined leaves. The forest nuts are the only ones that build partition walls between their seed leaves that the writer ever found. Do you know of any others?
How did the nuts get their hard shells, and their tough or prickly or mossy husks and cups? Just as the apple got its rosy skin, its sweet pulp and its horn-lined seed nests. The shell of a nut is like the seed nest of the apple. It is the hardened covering of the baby egg in the blossom. The cup or husk of the acorn, is really the twig on which the blossom grew. A plant can grow stem and root and bark and leaf and flower, all so very different. So it isn't hard to take a twig bud and turn it into a thorn on the rose, or a tendril on the grape vine, or a cup or husk on a nut tree. Nature is always turning these sleight-of-hand tricks, making the most unexpected things out of anything she happens to have in stock.
For two or three weeks our autumn woods are draped in splendor, and dropping their ripened fruits for squirrels and birds and little boys and girls to find. Then comes a gale of wind and cold rains. Suddenly, the trees are bare, the birds are gone, the squirrels asleep in their cosy store-rooms. The baby leaves and branches and blossoms for next year are tucked up snugly in tiny brown buds, all over the trees. You can find them in early winter, just above the scaly marks left by the leaves that have fallen. Every one of them is a little prize package, rain-and-frost-proofed in spicy gums and fleecy blankets.
Isn't it wonderful that these tender babies, some no bigger than grains of wheat, will be safe and warm even when the ice is thick on the rivers and ponds? Winds that break off great limbs of trees and almost blow you off your feet, will merely rock these babies in their cradles. And under the blankets of leaves and snow, the fallen seeds will lie asleep, as snugly as Johnny Bear in his cave. The first warm days of spring they will wake up, yawn so wide that they will split their shells, stretch their leaf-arms up to the sun, and dig their root-toes into the soft earth.