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Wayne's Word Noteworthy Plant For December 1995

An Astonishing Hybrid Nut:

A Cross Between A Filbert & A Rubber Tree

Several years ago, a most remarkable plant was presented to Professor Armstrong by a student in his Biology 100 class just before the Christmas break. According to the inquisitive student, the large nuts came from a recently developed hybrid between the American filbert (Corylus americana) and the rubber tree (Ficus elastica). Professor Armstrong decided to investigate this most unusual botanical discovery in front of his large lecture class demonstrating inductive reasoning and the scientific method.

The nuts appeared practically indistinguishable from ordinary filberts or hazelnuts, and the hybrid hypothesis seemed untenable because the alleged parental trees belonged to very different and unrelated plant families. Filberts belong to the birch family (Betulaceae), while figs belong to the mulberry family (Moraceae). In addition, filberts are typically wind-pollinated, while figs are pollinated by minute, species-specific wasps that enter specialized flower-bearing structures called syconia. The light spot on the outer pericarp seemed a little darker than most filberts, but no other visible distinctions could be detected by Professor Armstrong's careful analysis. The next obvious step in the investigation was to examine the seed enclosed within the hard-shelled nut. Using the sturdy metal base of a ring stand, Professor Armstrong carefully applied a forceful blow to the pericarp wall, fracturing it into several pieces. At that instant a light-colored object flew up into the air, momentarily defying the laws of gravity. Professor Armstrong caught the airborne object with his left hand, and to his astonishment (and to the utter amazement of the class), it was a condom.

Assortment of nuts from the filbert and filbert/rubber tree hybrid. The elastic contents of one hybrid nut (top right) has protruded from its herniated pericarp. Can you identify which nuts are unadulterated filberts and which nuts are hybrids?

Further interrogation of the student revealed that her mother makes these special hybrid nuts each Christmas for "stocking stuffers." She simply drills out hundreds of filberts and stuffs each one with a tightly rolled up condom. She then fills the initial invasive hole with wood putty, thus accounting for the slight discoloration on some nuts observed by Professor Armstrong. She sells the nuts for $1.00 each, and after class that day 100 of the hybrid nuts and 100 dollar bills rapidly changed hands in the true spirit of American free enterprise. Professor Armstrong cautioned the students that these hybrid filberts should not be trusted as birth control devices because the stuffing process might have damaged their efficacy of protection. Also please read the following word of caution before giving a condom to a person who is allergic to latex.

Later that day I received a personal visit from the Dean of Science & Technology at Palomar College. I thought I was in trouble for selling special filberts to students during a general biology lecture class. Actually, she bought 10 of them!

Caution: Latex condoms are made from natural rubber obtained from the sap of the para rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) in the euphorbia family (Euphorbiaceae). Thousands of people have a life threatening allergy to natural rubber latex, including condoms. Surprising a hypersensitive person with an unexpected gift of "condom-stuffed filberts" might result in a hospital bill and a lawsuit.

See Article About Natural Rubber & Chicle

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