Break out the rock salt and locate the ice scrapers — persimmon seeds, acorns and hickory nuts have aligned to forecast a harsh winter for the Washington, D.C., area.

Persimmons are a sweet autumn fruit that are often mistaken for orange tomatoes in the grocery. They are mostly grown in California for purchase in U.S. food markets, though the most widely cultivated species are native to Asia. However, there is one species — diospyros virginiana — which, if you didn’t guess by the name, is native to the eastern U.S.

According to weather folklore, the pattern inside of persimmon seeds can forecast the upcoming winter weather. Folklore says that a knife pattern indicates the winter will be cold and icy with a cutting wind, a fork pattern indicates the winter will be mild with good eating, and a spoon pattern indicates the winter will produce lots of snow to shovel.

A sample of seeds from a locally grown persimmon tree shows mostly a knife pattern this year which forecasts a cold and icy winter for our area. This is an interesting forecast, since we’re in the midst of a very strong El Nino, which has delivered mixed winter results in years past for this region. As always, we’ll release our official winter outlook later this fall.

Last fall, the pattern inside the persimmon seeds were mostly spoon shaped which indicated a snowy winter was to follow.  The D.C. area received approximately 20 to 40 inches of snow last winter, which was above average, so the persimmon seed forecast was basically correct. We’ll have to check back next year to see how this year’s batch of persimmon seeds fare with forecast accuracy.

Putting folklore aside, the shape of the kernel inside the persimmon seeds is probably influenced by the condition or stress of the tree when the fruit is formed. We had a particularly dry late summer in the Washington area which may have slightly stunted the development of the seed’s kernels compared to last year when the same tree produced spoon-shaped kernels within its seeds.

An acorn and nut boom in our area

Local oak trees have produced a massive amount of acorns this year. In addition, hickory trees and black walnut trees have also dropped amazing quantities of nuts. We’re having a “mast year” with our forest trees producing abundant nuts. Folklore predicts a hard winter will follow a mast year.

It’s crazy how many acorns and hickory nuts cover the ground in some of the wooded areas around Washington. This past weekend, I found sections of my running trail completely carpeted by acorns. I felt like I was running on ball bearings. With each step on the trail, my foot would roll an inch or two forward with numerous acorns under foot. The squirrels should be happy this fall, and I hope I don’t twist an ankle.

Putting folklore aside, the production of nuts is more an indicator of the past weather than future weather. But the mast cycles for trees are not completely understood.

Folklore forecasting is inconsistent

It’s not a shocker that folklore forecasting is often inconsistent. I polled my friends for their observations about persimmon seeds, acorns, and other nuts. One friend in Tennessee found spoon shaped kernels in his persimmon seeds. Perhaps, areas to our west will be stuck under heavy snow bands while the Washington area gets mostly freezing rain and sleet. That’s not too unusual, right?

The most interesting inconsistency this year occurred with the acorns. Many of our local areas are overflowing with acorns — tremendous amounts of acorns — while a few oak trees that usually produce abundant acorns are  completely barren this year.  Apparently, the oak trees are hedging on their winter forecast this year. Sound familiar?

Reports of hickory nuts and black walnuts, however, seem to be consistently abundant across all of the reports that I received.  In addition, I heard that the Chinese chestnuts near Leesburg and Berryville are very plentiful this year. Those trees are quite bullish for a good old-fashioned winter.

Woolly Worms?

So what about the woolly worms? Are they on board for a cold and icy winter? No, they came back with a forecast for a mild winter. It appears we have competing folklore winter forecasts! We won’t have to wait long to know which forecast will prevail. Meteorological winter is less than two months away.

By the way, with my leftover persimmons, I plan to make persimmon and peach cobbler. Last year, I made persimmon and berry pie. Persimmon winter forecasting efforts are certainly tasty.

Regarding the acorns, hickory nuts, and other nuts that cover the ground; I’ll leave them for the squirrels. If the winter is hard, they’ll need them! I’ll just stick to making persimmon pies and cobblers. Perhaps I’ll even freeze a few for the cold winter days yet to come, or the mild winter days yet to come. We’ll see…