Carry and Cache


There’s little question that these slightly shriveled berries were produced by the plant known as yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), a member of the holly family that’s native throughout the southeast, from Texas to coastal North Carolina.

How they came to be clustered in this hollow — part of a large, decaying tree stump — is hard to say, since there wasn’t an over-hanging yaupon branch to drop its berries into the stump. Even if there were, it seems unlikely that so many would have collected there.

It is food-gathering time, with squirrels burying pecans or collecting and drying fungi, while woodpeckers and bluejays energetically seek out and store acorns. Still, this seems a poor spot for caching food. Perhaps a younger and less experienced critter gave it a try, but decided to find a drier, more secure spot.

On the other hand, Christmas is drawing nigh. Perhaps this is only an optimistic squirrel’s version of cookies and milk. With such tempting berries in the stump, surely Santa Squirrel will pay a visit!


Comments always are welcome.

69 thoughts on “Carry and Cache

  1. Yaupon holly became such a popular landscaping shrub in our neighborhood when we built our house in 1983 that we jokingly called it the “Coppell Weed,” after the town. I’m thinking a raven deposited them there just because it loved the color. Perhaps for Raven Santa????

    1. It probably wasn’t a raven. It occurred to me I’d never heard anyone talk about seeing ravens in this area, and sure enough: neither the Cornell site nor iNaturalist show them anywhere close.

      On the other hand, we have crows, and crows cache food, too. That hadn’t occurred to me as a possibility. An article I found describes their approach in some detail:

      “A crow is far more methodical about caching food. It too has a favourite general area where it stores food, but instead of simply burying the food item, it will place a leaf, twig, bit of grass or some other item it is likely to remember on top of the food as a marker. If you watch the bird carefully as it is covering the food item, you will see that it tilts its head sideways, so that it can look at the marker on the hiding place with one eye and the surroundings with the other. In effect, it is creating a mental image of where it hid the piece of food so that it has a better chance of finding it at a later time when it wants to eat it.”

      Whichever creature stashed the berries, I hope Santa does accept the treat and leave a gift!

  2. Looks pretty exposed, ripe for some enterprising scavenger to filch a free meal. There is a Downy Woodpecker in my yard every day who caches food in a Sugar Maple, promptly followed by a squirrel. I assume that at some point she (it is a female woodpecker) will realize that this is not a winning strategy.

    1. The cache certainly was exposed, and just below my eye level, which made it even more noticeable. It seems a little strange to me that it’s been there in the open long enough for the berries to begin going “over the hill,” but food is abundant just now, and that may result in birds and other creatures passing by anything that isn’t top quality.

    1. That’s a delightful thought. They say that aging in a wooden cask adds subtle flavors and scents to wines and other spirits; why not age your winter berries in a wooden tree?

  3. I’ve heard of yaupon, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. More likely, I’ve seen it but didn’t know what it was (and didn’t ask!). I believe you’re right. Some critter obviously thought it was a good place to store some berries; he probably forgot where he’d put them, too. Nature is just so fascinating!

    1. I grew up thinking that squirrels buried acorns and nuts at random, just hoping to come across them again, but it seems that isn’t so. Everyone knows they’re problem solvers, and they apparently apply those skills to food storage, too. I read one study that suggested some squirrels will pretend to bury nuts when other squirrels are around, and then run off to a different location to bury the real thing. Others will seemingly sort through nuts or acorns, taking only the best for their caches. Maybe this was a pile of rejects in the tree!

    1. I only learned about the fungi about a year or so ago. I was astonished, really — especially since the author of the article mentioned that they keep them in a ‘pantry.’ Believe me, the images that evoked were delightful. No less a personage than Ranger Rick has written a bit about squirrels and fungi.

    1. I’ve known for years there is a Santa Cat, so why not a Santa Squirrel? My pet squirrel certainly had no reason to doubt his existence — every Christmas there was a fresh pecan or a bit of sweet potato waiting for him when he woke up.

      1. Hmm, I expect that the Santa Cat brought you mice…happens here sometimes too. The squirrels here would love fresh pecans – no chance of that – they’ll just have to make do with our hazelnuts! (Bet the trees were originally sown by them.)

    2. Hi there Ann. Giving you a heads up re the comment conversation between Linda, Tanja and I after you were here. You might like to take a look at the lovely Christmas card illustration that Linda gave a link to.. so cute!

        1. Oops, sorry – LIZ! It’s after 1 am here and I really need sleep – and to dream of Santa Squirrel! (PS. Squirrel is actually a surname here in Suffolk and some of my ancestors from this area were among them – so I’m a (sleepy) Squirrel, LOL!

            1. Ah, that’s Suffolk in England, UK – just remembered that there’s another Suffolk in the USA – confusing, eh?

    1. According to many legends, they do. Thomas Hardy wrote a poem based on the legend of the animals kneeling at midnight on Christmas Eve. Others say that the animals receive the gift of human speech at midnight, as Christmas Eve gives way to Christmas Day. Listen closely to Milo this year — you never know.

  4. I’m going with a squirrel stashing these, possibly for a near future meal. Or…possibly some chippy elves in the employ of Santa Squirrel have left them as a way station for him to pick up along the way…the sled can only hold so much.

    1. I thought someone surely would catch the title and suggest this little pile was part of the inventory of a cash and carry store, but no one did — so I’ll amuse myself by sharing the suggestion with someone (you) who enjoys word play!

        1. Oh! For the suggestion that the elves are in Santa’s employ? Sure! I didn’t catch that as a cash-and-carry store reference, but if the elves cached, and Santa carried, that’s close enough!

        1. After a week devoted to the drills, levels, tape measures, and (gasp!) arithmetic needed to construct shelves and hang pictures, I just was ready for a little word play!

    1. Ha! caught you out again.. bet you could paint Tanja. Did you see Linda’s comment above.. “You know who would pull the sleigh, don’t you? Flying squirrels, of course!” Very cool. It would indeed make great art!

      1. It not only would, it has. Check this out. It’s a Christmas card created by Arkansas artist Amanda Bancroft, whose blog I’m now following. She and her husband live in a tiny house near Fayetteville, on Kessler mountain. It’s in an area I hope to visit again, and I might even make it a point to visit them.

    2. Sometimes imagination is quite enough, although when I did an image search for Santa Squirrel I was astonished by the number of photoshopped gems that are out there. Still, my favorite is Arkansas artist Amanda Bancroft’s great Christmas card. She even has flying squirrels pulling the sleigh, and an elf leaving seed for the birds.

      1. Thank you sharing this fun card, Linda. It is full of loving details, such as the seeds for the birds, and the doors and windows in the tree trunks. And Santa Squirrel looks like good will personified.

  5. I find this an oddly appealing image as in blown up to 2’x2′ and put in a frame on the wall appealing. I like the contrast of the red and the brown.

    1. Because of the textures and the minimal number of colors, it’s both simple and complex at the same time. I think the fact that the berries are shriveled and wrinkly adds to the appeal, as does the way the wood is turning thready.

    1. It was fun to find such a bright, seasonally appropriate accent along the path. I think the tree might have been felled in the past months, and the stump, about 8′ tall, was rotting away quite nicely. They cleared quite a bit of territory as a first step toward transforming old, overgrown land into a prairie, so there are a lot of interesting things to see.

        1. Exactly. And even though we’re fairly sure that the child is father to the man, as the poet had it, there’s often no telling what is going to show up at the end of some transformative processes. Nature may know, but we don’t.

    1. There’s just no predicting what we’ll see, is there? This was my first foray out with the camera in about a month, and I hardly could remember how to work it — but it worked well enough for this, and I was so pleased. The color’s especially appealing.

    1. I thought it was cute, too. We don’t have any pecan trees close by, but there are plenty of live oaks, and those acorns are getting buried by the determined squirrels who live here.

      I’ve been watching them, and it seems they eat the seeds from the cypress balls but bury the acorns. The cypress trees are almost stripped of their fruit now, except at the very ends of the branches. It’s easy to spot where the squirrels start to get nervous and turn back to sturdier branches.

    1. The fact that the berries aren’t buried or hidden makes that a possibility. The only thing is, all of the berries still on branches were fresh, fat and plump and shiny. These are well shriveled, suggesting they’ve been there a while. Who knows? Maybe they are being allowed to ferment. Invitations may have been sent: party at the stump tonight!

    1. It’s another example of the end of the life cycle being quite attractive. We often focus on seed heads, but the wrinkled little berries have their own charm, especially since they’ve maintained their color so well.

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