This mandala features nuts and fruit all native to north eastern North America and is possible through the work and generosity of PJ Chmiel who for the last decade has been restoring the soil and planting a native food forest near Kalamazoo, Michigan.
A visit earlier in the week yielded a bounty of nuts and seeds that are primarily destined to be grown out and next summer distributed as seedlings to gardens and community projects throughout Windsor and Essex County, Ontario, Canada.
Hazelnut, Corylus americana
American chestnut, Castanea dentata
Chinquapin dwarf chestnut, Castanea pumila
American plum, Prunus americana
Inland sea oat grass, Chasmanthium latifolium
I am a political conflict child refugee to Canada from the last Russian occupation of Poland, 1940 to 1986, and the immigration was sponsored by the Canadian government for the whole family of a father who spent months in jail for his anti-occupation Solidarnosc work. I am a conflicted though always very grateful addition to this colonized land, and it took a long time to learn its horrific history. Destruction of native eco-systems and species is as purposeful and fundamental a keystone of colonization as the destruction of native people, language, and culture.
What I do and how I behave here now can help with indigenous sovereignty in Canada and indeed globally.
Rather than grow here in Canada plants native to Poland to celebrate my personal identity and indigeneity to that land, a more meaningful connection to the soil and the planet can be achieved by observing closely, respecting, and fostering the native life that is here already, perfectly adapted to here.
The hazelnut is very close to my Polish heart. It is, or at least used to be, so ubiquitous in the Polish landscape and diet that in the Polish language it is the nut simply called "nut" ("orzech") and all other nuts are differentiated in their naming. This is also true of most North American native people who also call hazelnuts simply "nuts" in their respective languages, such as the Ojibway and also Anishinaabe word "bagaan". That these are seeds of plants that are native to here helps me to manage feelings of belonging and identity that I have struggled with my whole life.
Although large kernel nuts originating in Turkey will grow well here, their Turtle Island cousins evolved to the specific local conditions of the this continent over millions of years and there is a balancing, grounding effect when there is respect for these basic natural processes. Right now there is a lot of instability in my own individual life related to a housing crisis and the future of my garden on a rental property is itself is also in question. These seeds lend a sense of continuity, anchored in the length of the very evolution of these plants and into the future.
Tomorrow, I am heading with a load of perennials divided out from my garden to a native plant exchange in the county. Some of these nuts will be used like gold coins and gemstone presents for the more experienced growers who will know how to plant them ahead of the winter for proper wet cold stratification and germination next spring - well, it's "just" burying the nut in the soil, as a squirrel might, but then the spot has to be protected, against those very same squirrels who love the nuts as much as we do.
Then in the afternoon I am heading over to one of these experienced growers, Tracey "The Paw Paw Man" Colenutt. We will set up hazelnuts to grow out for distribution as seedlings to strengthen the presence of these species in the region. For me the hazelnut is a personal focus and the chestnuts and acorns are also very valuable. The American chestnut used to be considered the finest chestnut of them all, before the blight of the last century that decimated billions of trees on the continent.
It feels very meaningful to me to have finally found native hazelnuts to grow. Hazelnuts have a tap root and do not transplant very well, certainly not as larger or mature specimens, and maybe this causes them to be less favoured as shrubs for modern gardens where we expect a lot from our plants and very quickly. Maybe this is partly why it seemed impossible to find these plants locally as ornamental specimens.
The Turkish origin European strains have larger nuts an are favoured for commercial growing and they are planted as small seedlings, and then they grow for several years. That is not nearly as instantly gratifying as buying an ornamental plant already the size of a piece of furniture, or even a car, and simply placing it in our outdoor livingrooms. For these, it will be many years before they mature to produce gold in the distributed food forest of Essex County.
I keep going out to the shed to just kind of pet the hazelnuts and chestnuts and seed pits (plums long gone! delicious!) where they are curing. Most are still in their meaty green covers and some have turned brown and look even more like little animals.
#nativeamericanhazelnut #Hazelnut #Corylusamericana