Plant A Day – American Hogpeanut

American Hogpeanut Amphicarpaea bracteata

American Hogpeanut
Amphicarpaea bracteata

I was reading about Hogpeanut and learned that the ‘peanut’ is not the seed from the above-ground pod, but rather the seed produced from a self-fertile flower that grows along stolons along the ground.  In fact, this seed is sometimes underground.

I also read that Native Americans relished this nut and the best way to find the nut was to find a mouse cache of the nuts and steal them.  They must have felt bad about it, because it is claimed that they would replace the cache with corn kernels so that the mice would have something to eat.  How nice of them!

I’m sure that’s all true to some extent.  What else is true is that it is very common for all sorts of animals cache all sorts of food, and that all sorts of animals steal all sorts of food from other animals caches, and then re-cache it themselves.  It turns out that seeds can be distributed and redistributed many times before it is forgotten and germinates into a new plant.

This is such an interesting part of natural history that there has been a ton of scientific research on caching, pilfering, re-caching, reciprocal pilfering, etc.  They have even marked seeds with radioactive isotopes so that they can follow them around the meadow as they get moved and buried.

This activity with seeds must play a huge role in their dispersal.  If you think about it, how could an oak forest ever grow?  The acorns drop straight down.  How could any forest work its way up a mountainside.  Certainly cottonwoods could do it, but many of the forests in mountains are coniferous, which have cones with heavy seeds.

So, what’s all this got to do with the Hogpeanut?  Not a whole lot other than it demonstrates yet another small fascinating aspect of natural history.

The seedpods are very similar to other members of the legume family - Fabaceae

The seedpods are very similar to other members of the legume family – Fabaceae

The leaves of three are quite distinctive for a small vine

The leaves of three are quite distinctive for a small vine

This shows the vining aspect of the plant

This shows the vining aspect of the plant

ambr2_flower_002

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