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Pine Cones, Hedge Apples, and Other Unusual Winter Weather Forecasters

Pine Cones, Hedge Apples, and Other Unusual Winter Weather Forecasters

Before people had satellites, Doppler radar, and all the other high-tech gizmos that we rely on to predict the weather, they relied on indicators from the natural world to help predict what the weather was going to do next. From that need to forecast the weather, all kinds of folklore rhymes and sayings arose.

In addition to the 20 Signs of a Hard Winter that we’ve posted in the past, we found even more signs from nature that our ancestors relied on to predict the upcoming winter. Have you heard of any of these?

Count The Hedge Apples

First, you might be asking, “what are hedge apples?” They’re sometimes referred to as Osage oranges and among fruits, they stick out as particularly odd looking. About the size of a grapefruit, these green fruits have a bumpy, knobby appearance. In fact, that lumpy look is why some people call hedge apples “monkey brains.” The trees that they grow on are native to parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, though they can be found throughout most of the United States.

So how do hedge apples predict the weather? According to regional folklore, there are three things to look for. First, if hedge apples fall from the trees later than usual, this is said to indicate that the coming winter will be cold and snowy. The same is true if hedge apple trees produce more fruits than usual—winter will be harsh. Lastly, if hedge apples are larger than normal, it suggests that winter temperatures will be colder, while smaller hedge apples indicate a milder winter ahead.

Crack Some Walnut Shells

Similar to hedge apple folklore, regions that have plentiful walnut trees often rely on walnuts to see what the coming winter will bring. There are two things that people look for. First, plentiful walnuts mean that the winter will be cold, while fewer nuts in the trees mean a milder winter. If the number of walnuts leaves you uncertain, then get crackin’! Thicker walnut shells are supposed to be a telltale sign of a cold winter ahead while thin walnut shells mean temperatures will stay on the warm side.

Just in case you don’t have a walnut tree handy, this bit of folklore works with hickory nuts, too.

Where Are Squirrels Building Nests?

We’ve heard the folklore saying that squirrels gathering lots of nuts “in a flurry” as a means to predict the weather, but turns out, where they’re building their nests is also very telling. There are two types of squirrel nests: the dens they build in hollow trees and clusters of leaves that can be seen among tree branches. Look for the leafy nests to help predict winter weather. Folklore says that when squirrels build these nests higher in trees, the winter is sure to be harsh, whereas lower nests or nests that are away from the tree’s center means the winter will be mild.

Apple and Onion Skins May Hold Clues to the Future

Did you know? Our ancestors also observed the skins of onions, evidenced by this folklore rhyme:

Onion skins very thin, mild winter coming in.
Onion skins thick and tough, coming winter cold and rough.

So if you’ve harvested some onions from the garden, check the skins to see if they’re thicker or thinner (it doesn’t count with store-bought onions, which may have been grown elsewhere).

If you don’t have any homegrown onions handy, then bite into a locally grown apple, instead, because this observation applies to apple skins as well. Thicker, tougher apple skins are supposed to mean that a cold winter is on the way.

Can Pine Cones Predict the Weather?

Much like the predictions that rely on an overabundance of fruit or nuts to predict what winter weather will bring, it is said that numerous pine cones in the fall foretell a long, cold winter. Scientists are doubtful on this point since pine trees can take three years to produce pine cones.

The interesting thing about pinecones is that they can also be used to forecast rain. In dry weather, pinecones stay open in order to drop pollen and seeds, but as humidity rises, the scales of a pine cone close up to protect the seeds or pollen inside. This happens because the pine cone’s scales absorb ambient moisture, expand, and squeeze shut. In other words, if pine cones are closed, then rain may be in the near future.

Tell us—what signs are you seeing in your back yard?

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  • Karen says:

    Osage orange trees or hedge apples as they are called are all over Ohio. We have several trees at the back of our property and they are falling already! They are NOT edible, not to be confused with pawpaw fruit which tastes like banana, mango and citrus all rolled in one. The balls fall all over the backyard and if hit by one, they do hurt! Sometimes they will break open and a white milky sap oozes out. When they decompose, they smell awful! They can be used around the garage and house to keep spiders and critters at bay.

  • TT says:

    We called these ” Paw Paws ” when I was a kid. So now I don’t know what a Paw Paw is. But we were told not to eat them as they were poisoness.

  • debbiedayle says:

    I’m from Ohio and the hedge apples here have all fallen off their trees already. I use a few in my house to ward off winter spiders and insects.

  • Michael J Westhusing says:

    The picture of walnuts are actually hickory nuts.

  • Robert Herndon says:

    Hedge apples are not to be eaten. Native Americans used them for several things, including repelling spiders. The wood from the tree makes the best bows for bow and arrows.

  • Merrill Henderson says:

    It is claimed that the fruit has a cucumber like taste. Not liking cucumbers I have never even tried, plus the fact that I can’t get past the stickyness nor the milky liquid that oozes from them when cutting into them. I’ll stick to my persimmons to predict the winter weather (by the way, I have seen nothing but spoons this year in the persimmon seeds so lots and lots of snow).

  • susan says:

    are these the things we see in a bin at the store that have a sign saying they keep rodents and insects away but that they are NOT edible?

  • deborah donnelly says:

    What do the hedge apples taste like I am a Canadian & have never tasted them,only heard of them

  • sac333 says:

    I totally trust in the bois d’ arc tree for fences. My Dad & I built our fences for cows & my horse when I was only six yrs. old. I’m today ( my d-day) 61 yrs old & the fence still stands, even though my Dad died yrs. ago. Thank you, Farmers Almanac, for all your interesting folklore & many other interesting stories.


    • Hugh says:

      sac333 your the first to call it correct I’ve been arround them all my life never heard them called anything but bois d arc. Being a rancher all my life they are best fence posts never rot. We have some here on ranch my grandfather put in ground in early 1920’s. They are very hard to drive a staple in and will spit them out after time. I know a comanche friend here that makes a living making bows out of them the old way. A very tiresome job due to hardness of wood. I’m 69 and when I was youngster you could buy truck loads of bois d arc or cedar posts at the livestock sale barn. Hope this brings back memories for some.

  • Melvin says:

    Hedge apples will choke your cattle to death. Been there done that. Also if you make a fence post out of a hedge limb, If you can find one straight enough for a post. One no bigger than grannys cane will last for as long or longer than a steel post. I’m 73 and I know where there is a fence in Dade county Mo. that was an old fence when I was a child, It’s still there. Also cut your hedge when it is green, when it is dead it will dull your chainsaw.

  • Grace A Blair says:

    In Texas we call Hedge Apples, Horse Apples don’t know why the locals do call them by that name. One use for them is to put the green apples in a corner of your garage or outbuildings to keep rodents out. Rodents don’t like the smell or taste. I have witnessed in our garage no critters scurrying around. Tried to put them in our house but they have a strong smell.

  • Rufus says:

    The Osage is also called the Bois d’arc tree here in Texas. The fruit is also call Horse Apples here. If you want a tool handle that is stronger than Hickory, use Bois d’arc.

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