Looking up caterpillars and cooking up crab apple butter

The trails at Silver Creek Metro Park in Summit County are taking on a pre-autumnal tone with their fruits of fall arriving. There are the porcelain blue fruits of silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) and the white fruits and bright red-purple pedicels and peduncles (fruit stalks) of gray dogwood (C. racemosa), there are rose hips and the poisonous deep purple-black fruits of pokeweed. At Secrest Arboretum we saw the wavy leaves of the fernleaf beech, an elegant smaller variation of beech, with perfect rounded crowns. There were frilly flowers of ‘Pink Spice’ bugbane (actaea), a member of the buttercup family. There were scalloped green leaves of katsuratree and the occasional apricot-colored version presaging their coming fall color.

Galls revealed

Last week I wrote of galls — abnormal plant growths induced by gall makers, especially those induced by gall wasps on oak trees (well over 800 different types), and then pictured the lobed oak gall, found on a swamp white oak at Ohio State University’s Secret Arboretum in Wooster. I closed with a galling quiz question (from a 2021 article in the New York Almanack): “What do the following items have in common: the Declaration of Independence, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, Bach’s musical scores, Rembrandt’s drawings, Shakespeare’s plays, and the Magna Carta?”

Oak bullet galls.  The Declaration of Independence was written in oak gall ink.

The answer is they were written in oak gall ink! From medieval times to the 1800s, insect galls — especially on oak, containing tannic acid that strengthens the gall wall — when blended with iron salts produced a dark, inky precipitate. This iron-oak gall ink binds well and sinks into paper, making it a durable ink for preserving documents. It is no longer the go-to ink for documents, but you can experiment and make your own.