Nature Notebook, November 8, 2018


It is a sparkly time in the sky, with both the Taurid and Leonid meteor showers in the month of November. The Taurids, which peaked on Nov. 5, originate in the constellation Taurus, located just above Orion in the sky. Watch for fireballs above Orion’s three-starred belt. The Leonids begin this week and peak on Nov. 17. They are thought to be dust grains of comet Tempel-Tuttle—first noted by Wilhelm Temple and Horace Parnell Tuttle in the 19th century. Look for them after midnight in the eastern sky.

More buckeyes dropping everywhere. A couple of trees along Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, and one on Olema Hill, have always drawn attention. As the leaves fall, the tree is festooned with round, lime-green pods that split open and drop a rust-colored seed to the ground. Like oak acorns, a buckeye root develops, but lives off nutrients in the seed until the roots can establish themselves in the ground. This adaptation allows it to survive if it drops onto dry ground before the rains begin. I have seen squirrels gnawing on them, but not deer or other species. Among Coast Miwok, buckeye pods were processed for food and used for fishing: the mashed seeds were dropped into pools, where they stunned fish that were then scooped off the surface. Miwok also used soaproot in this way to catch fish.