Create decorations with natural elements

  • This snowman has a beechnut husk hat, milkweed fuzz for hair, maple twig arms and slices of wood for a body. Photos courtesy of Ruth Smith

  • The angel has a pine cone body, milkweed pod wings, acorn for head & cap and evening primrose seed pod for a trumpet. —Courtesy of Ruth Smith

  • This medallion includes evening primrose seed heads, sweet fern fertile frond, alder cones and turkey tail fungus on a wood slice. —Courtesy of Ruth Smith

  • Santa is a milkweed pod, with fuzz for his beard. —Courtesy of Ruth Smith

For the Monitor
Published: 12/9/2020 11:01:01 AM

Pine cones and seed pods and acorns, oh my!

We are all being challenged to think differently about the upcoming holidays and find innovative ways to celebrate the season of giving. Why not take this opportunity to be creative and try something new. Start with a different kind of shopping experience: a natural scavenger hunt. The woods, fields and gardens around us are full of treasures in the form of cones, seedpods, nuts, stems and dried flowers. With a little time and imagination, these natural objects can be transformed into beautiful holiday decorations and gifts.

Plant diversity is abundant in our area. Each species has its own way of producing and holding seeds. Some of those capsules and seed heads persist and are more noticeable after the leaves have fallen and flowers are gone. Many pods and cones have attractive or whimsical shapes, which can be transformed into critters and characters, angels and elves, stars and snowflakes or whatever you decide.

Begin your collecting expedition with an open mind, a sense of curiosity and some empty bags or baskets. It’s also helpful to bring along a pair of pruning clippers or heavy shears for cutting tougher stems. Let the materials speak to you. Take time to notice their subtle beauty and allow their designs to provide inspiration.

Some of my favorite collectibles include gray papery milkweed pods which crack open to disperse their seeds into the wind, carried aloft on gossamer fluff (aka angel hair). These pods make wonderful angel wings, Santa heads or little mice. While in an open field, harvest some grasses, both stem and seed head. The foxtail grass is a favorite because after the seeds fall off, a tuft resembling a tiny bottle brush remains. It adds a nice texture to arrangements or can become its namesake: a foxtail.

A stroll in the woods may yield a variety of cones. The long (4 to 8”) cones of eastern white pine are extremely prevalent this year. Red pines have a rounder, stouter cone (1 ot 2.5”). Either of these works well as the body of an animal or person. Eastern hemlock and spruces have tiny cones (less than an inch) which make great heads or appendages. Alders produce miniature cones that persist on the branches of this wetland shrub. Acorns come in different sizes and shapes and even if the squirrels and chipmunks have eaten all the nuts, the caps are fun to use as ... caps. The outer shell of beechnuts are a good find. The empty husk turned upside down on a flower head or acorn makes an adorable fuzzy-looking hat.

Flower gardens are a wonderful source of decorating material. Lily seeds are black and bead-like, perfect for eyes. Columbine and poppy seed heads are fun for hats or faces. Iris seed capsules make a mighty fine trumpet to herald in the season.

It’s best if you collect materials when they are dry, but if you bring them in damp, make sure they are thoroughly dry before you begin constructing with them. Also, give every seed head a firm shake or pat to be sure that it won’t fall apart as you’re working with it, or shortly after you’ve put a lot of time and creativity into it.

Consider collecting etiquette before you harvest. If you are picking on property other than your own, always get permission from the owner. Don’t take more than 10% of what is there so there will be seeds left as winter food for wildlife or propagation of future plants. Become familiar with invasive species such as Eurasian bittersweet or European barberry. If you use those berries, be sure not to spread them to new areas and never compost the leftovers because they will sprout and take over wherever they land.

Once you have gathered your items, have fun assembling them. Glue guns and florist wire are useful for attaching parts to each other. If you need ideas, visit Pinterest and look for pinecone critters and natural ornaments. But don’t be limited by what others have done. Branch out, let the objects inspire you and take time out of the holiday season to connect with what is simple, natural, lovely and fun. Enjoy time outdoors and be thankful for the gifts it provides.

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