Although there are many apple trees growing along the Salt Marsh Trail, few people would give them a second glance. Compared to the fruit available in grocery stores, they are far from perfect. They’re not quite ripe either, yet many have already fallen on the ground. How did they get there? Strong winds might have blown them off the branches, but porcupines are also known to shake them off.
I’ve often seen porcupines sitting in apple trees, as many as three in a tree at once. The apples rather than the leaves, twigs and bark of the tree are consumed. Apple seeds are not eaten due to their cyanide content. Although porcupines prefer nuts and acorns, if these are not available, apples will constitute a large part of their diet during the late summer and autumn.
High in carbohydrates, apples help the porcupine gain the extra weight necessary to help them survive through the winter months. Due to the higher potassium levels in apples, their consumption will prompt porcupines to seek extra sodium in their diet. They’ll find the salt in water plants, insects, animal bones, the outer bark of trees and sometimes the soil of river banks and sand bars.
This porcupine was sitting in an apple tree close to the Salt Marsh Trail. I don’t know how it managed to balance its large bulky form on such a narrow branch. As you can see, its backside holds a formidable array of quills. An adult porcupine can have up to 3o,000 of them. If the branch broke and it fell to the ground, this rodent would be well equipped to defend itself against predators.
Porcupines are more concerned with the pH of an apple’s contents rather than its looks. They tend to choose ones that are less acidic. Given the choice of a store-bought apple and a wild one, I wonder which the porcupine would prefer.
Almost all wild apples are handsome. They cannot be too gnarly and crabbed and rusty to look at. The gnarliest will have some redeeming traits even to the eye.
~ Henry David Thoreau
Nutritional reference: Porcupine Nutrition Standards (pdf)
For more information on our local porcupines, see Porcupines Along Salt Marsh Trail.