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Acorns and Oak Trees
September 14, 2009


Yes, that's me.

The sun now sets before 8:00 PM as the days continue to shrink.


That is me as well.

We have been blessed with some wonderful late summer weather.

Actually, better than most of our summer was.

We could've used this during the growing season, but I will take it now.

Saturday was my niece's outdoor wedding and reception (she was radiant).

I didn't mind the 2 hour drive each way, but what guy would agree to a wedding during football season?

On a Saturday?

Oh well..............

This time of year, annual flowers reach their peak performance.

Vegetable gardens are a bit weak and late blight is sneaking up on a few of the tomato plants.

Still, Lake Michigan called and we answered the call on Friday and are heading there today as well (Monday).

The water may be a bit cool, but do able.

Besides, only a handful of people visit the state parks this time of year and that's nice.

A person has to make hay while the sun shines.

Hummingbirds are still busy as they pack on weight for the next stage of their journey south.

Hummingbirds don't set up in staging areas as we think of staging, and don't migrate in flocks.

They have certain spots where they rest and feed, but not what you would call staging.

While several hummers may hang out in a certain location as the gorge and rest, they aren't the most social of birds.

Rubies are known for their anti social skills and barely tolerate each other this time of year.

I know they are still busy chasing each other in my yard.

Hummingbirds migrate on their own, not in flocks or with other birds.

They also migrate during the day.

The further south they get, it may appear that they are in flocks.

This is from the funnel effect, as most hummers funnel into Texas and Arizona before they make the final leg of their trip to their winter hangout.

American goldfinches are now turning colors.

Males turn from their beautiful Breeding colors to a very bland olive green.

This picture was taken three days ago through the screen door in my yard.

You can clearly see the checkered molt taking place.

You may be noticing a lack of or an increase of certain birds in your area.

Yes, migration is beginning to hit stride.

Continue to enjoy your flowers and that means dead heading in southern regions and areas where killing frosts are rare.

Here in the north country, you may want to let flowers go to seed so your feathered friends have something extra to much on.

For more birds, be sure to offer fresh water.

This is always true, but migrating birds are attracted by water and you just may spot something you may otherwise never see.

Continue planting your bargains and transplanting as you adjust or add to your gardens.

I know that fall is around the corner and migrations are the topic for the next couple of months.

However, I did quite the extensive series on migrations last year and there are other topics to touch on.

I will however, be glad to do migrations if you want me to.

I also know that fall brings your favorites.


Time is approaching for out annual fall favorites from you, the reader.

Last year you guys brought a plethora of autumn favorites.

We all enjoyed it and this year we have more and new readers to contribute.

Regular readers and participants, I hope you chime in as well.

Here's the drill.

Your first name (for obvious reasons, I omit last names).

City or region you are in

State or province you live in.

Send me your favorite things about fall or what you enjoy about the season.

It could be the fall colors, crisp air, apple cider, football, bonfires, you name it.

I will collect these for a couple of weeks and sometime in October we will have a favorite session by you, the readers.

Favorites are always a hit and will be better, when you participate.

This week I'm writing on acorns and oak trees.

Some of you have made comments on acorns or the lack of and wonder why.

Hopefully, you will walk away from this letter with a better understanding of the mighty oak and the fruit they bear.


Oak Trees are any tree or shrub of the genus Quercus of the family Fagaceae (beech family).

The White Oak (Q. alba) pictured to your right, is the tree from which the phrase "The Mighty Oak" was coined.

The white oak is the most prolific lumber oak in the Northern Hemisphere and requires little maintenance.

A symbol of strength, the oak has been revered for both historical and mythological associations.

The oak tree family includes as many as 600 species, found chiefly in north temperate zones throughout the globe and also in Polynesia.

There are about 70 species native to the United States and Canada.

Oaks are cultivated for ornament and are prized as the major source of hardwood lumber.

The wood is durable, tough, and attractively grained; it is especially valued in construction and for flooring, furniture, railroad ties, barrels, tool handles, and veneer.

A hard wood that is used for burning as well.

The bark of some oaks has been used in medicine, in tanning, and for dyes.

Acorns, the fruit of oak trees, have long been employed as a source of hog feed, tannin, oil, and especially food.

Scores of wild creatures feed on and even depend on the acorns (called mast) to survive the winter months.

These species are classified in groups as either "White Oaks" or "Red Oaks", based on their flowering biology and the time required to produce mature acorns.

Common species in the "White Oak" group include:

white oak ( Quercus alba ), swamp white oak ( Q. bicolor ), burr oak ( Q. macrocarpa ), overcup oak ( Q. lyrata ), post oak ( Q. stellata ), chestnut oak ( Q. prinus ), and chinkapin oak ( Q. muehlenbergii ).

Even the live oaks found in the south and west are classified as white oak.

Common species in the "Red Oak" group include:

northern red oak ( Q. rubra ), southern red oak ( Q. falcata ), black oak ( Q. velutina ), pin oak ( Q. palustris ), scarlet oak ( Q. coccinea ), and blackjack oak ( Q. marilandica ).

A beautiful Pin oak is pictured here to your right.

This is an excellent specimen tree needing plenty of room to mature properly.

Notice the picture of the White oak and the Pin oak.

Left to grow in open spaces and unpruned, notice how the branchs grow low to the ground, much like a shrub.

Only in wooded areas and where they have been pruned, do many of our trees loose the lower branches naturally.

When grown in open spaces and left unpruned, oaks grow much like a giant shrub.

Sometimes you may see a lone giant tree growing in a field.

These single trees (no matter the species) are called wolf trees as in 'Lone Wolf.'

The masting cycle:

Much of the variability in acorn production is the result of a natural cycle in oaks called "masting".

In this cycle, oaks produce low or moderate acorn crops most years, and an abundant acorn crop once every two to five years.

Acorn production during an abundant crop year may be 80 percent higher than in a low production year; the difference to deer can be hundreds of pounds of acorns per acre.

Although the exact mechanisms that control masting are not fully understood, biologists believe that oak species, weather, and genetics are important factors that determine how often oaks produce abundant crops.

Oak species vary in the age at which they produce their first acorn crop.

The age and diameter at which they produce their largest crops, and how often they produce abundant crops.

In general, most oak species produce their first crop of acorns when the trees are 20 to 25 years old.

They produce their largest crops when they are between 50 and 200 years old and when they are greater than 20 inches in diameter.

On average, most oak species produce an abundant acorn crop once every three to five years.

Often we remember these bountiful years and wonder why the tree isn't producing much the following year.

Weather can play a major roll in acorn production.

A late Spring frost can stun the flowers (catkins) and thus prevent acorn production.

Droughts and insects can also apply enough stress to keep the oaks from producing acorns.

So if your oak tree suffered or endured any of the stress mentioned or if your tree is not old enough, acorn production may have been reduced or non-existent.

Each tree, too, has its own 2 - 5 year cycle, producing many acorns one year and few in other years.

Stressed trees, including those trying to survive extended drought conditions, often wildly overproduce acorns to ensure the survival of the species.

If it is dry one year, you can expect a bumper crop the following year.

Oaks are one of the few trees that can self-pollinate and "clone" themselves.

But they prefer the genetic variety that comes from the flowers of male trees pollinating the flowers of female trees.

That's a dance that takes place every spring, usually in May, for anywhere from seven days to two weeks, depending on the weather.

Weather is critical.

A late frost can kill the flowering catkins and any chance of pollination.

Gypsy moths (common here in SW. MI) and other insects can damage trees, but because the pollen is airborne, insects don't play much of a role in oak reproduction unless they have weakened the tree by year after year of defoliation.

Years when it is so wet, pollen has a difficult time getting airborne and this too can keep production down.

Interesting tidbits:

American Indians surveyed oak trees to know where the acorn crop was that year.

By fall when the acorns dropped, they knew where to find the deer and other wildlife feeding.

Some deer hunters use the same play today.

Foresters survey acorns, nuts and berries for their annual "mast" report that helps wildlife managers figure out how much food there might be for deer, bear and other wildlife.

Live oak is a large spreading tree of the lower Coastal Plain from southeastern Virginia to southern Florida and to southern Texas. It normally grows in low sandy soils near the Coast but also occurs in moist rich woods and along stream banks.

On the Gulf Coast, live oaks often support many types of epiphytic plants, including Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) which hangs in weeping garlands, giving the trees a striking appearance.

Live oak is a fast-growing tree.

Sweet edible acorns are usually produced in great abundance and are of value to many birds and mammals including wild turkeys, wood ducks, jays, quail, whitetail deer, raccoons, and squirrels.

There is 7 species of live oak.

One grows in the southeast, the others are found in the southwest and Pacific coast.

Red oak acorns take two years to develop from flower to mature nut. Red oaks however, can produce acorns every year.

Points to Ponder:

In a good year the oak tree will have many flowers -- up to several thousand.

With the right humidity, the right temperature, no late frost in the spring, and sufficient rainfall in the summer, tiny scale-covered acorns (called nubbins at that point) begin to grow.

They will mature to become full grown and ripe acorns by late summer.

The chances of one acorn making it to become an oak tree are very slim -- less than 1/10,000.

That means that for every 10,000 acorns, only one will become a tree!

For centuries, humans have joined the squirrels and the raccoons, the turkeys and the boars, the deer and the chipmunks in the harvest of fall nuts.

Nutting was once serious business, a matter of survival, of storing sustenance for the coming winter.

So it was with Native Americans and colonists, and with European peasants-and so it remains today among people still living a hand-to-mouth existence with the earth.

Few foods offer nutrition as completely and as compactly as the nut.

Botanically, it is a seed, the embryonic life of a tree.

Split one open sometime and notice the tree embryo just waiting to grow.

But in effect, it is a hermetically sealed energy capsule, packed with protein and fat; a nourishment concentrate.

Most people today go nutting for pleasure.

Nutting, puts you inside the fall forest kaleidoscope, every step a crunch in leaves, the air crisp and laden with the musky scent of autumn.

There is no better time to be in the woods, and no better excuse (whether or not you need one) than to be gathering tasty nuts.

Ah, there's the crux of the matter: Not all nuts are tasty.

Some are astonishingly bitter.

I have gone after Hickory nuts and Black walnuts and Beech nuts several times, but never after acorns (for my consumption).

I have however, collected acorns to feed birds and wildlife.


No matter how many mothers have told their children otherwise, acorns are not poisonous; they are one of the oldest foods known to man.

There is that fear of the unknown again.

Evidence of their consumption has been found amid the debris in Paleolithic cave dwellings.

They were the staff of life for many Native American groups, who ground the nuts into meal for bread and mush.

The Pilgrims found baskets of roasted acorns hidden in underground chambers and, noting the nuts' similarity in taste to that of chestnuts, welcomed oak mast into their diet.

Acorn kernels provide a complete vegetable protein, up to 70% by weight in some species.

More than half their bulk consists of energy-rich carbohydrates.

Amazingly, the annual nut crop from oak trees in North America surpasses the combined yearly yield of all other nut trees, both wild and cultivated.

(So if you're wondering whether gathering up a bushel or two of acorns will deprive some creature of sustenance, worry not.)

There are more than 60 species of oak trees in North America, and every one of them produces edible acorns.

Some, however, are more edible than others.

Oaks are broadly divided into two groups: red (or black) oaks, and white.

Generally, nuts from trees in the red-oak group have a bitter taste, thanks to their high content of tannin, an astringent substance.

White oaks, however, contain less tannin and produce acorns that are considerably sweeter.

Once you've removed their caps and shelled them, exceptionally sweet acorns can be eaten as they are, either raw or roasted (bake them in a slow, 250 to 300F, oven for about an hour).

But even "sweet" varieties can be too bitter for some tastes, and in some places only red-oak acorns are easily available.

Fortunately, tannin is soluble in water and can be extracted, leaving behind palatable nuts.

Boil the kernels whole for 15 minutes, pour the water off (it will be brown with tannin), add fresh water, boil for another 15 minutes, pour the water off, and add fresh and so on, until the water is only barely tinted.

White-oak acorns may require only one or two changes of water, while red-oak nuts may need many.

I will have to give it a try.

If acorns aren't for you, you can still gather a bunch to feed your wildlife over the course of the year.

What better way to get out and enjoy some fresh air.

Recruit your children and grand children for this activity.

You may be surprised at the wildlife you see and the natural world around is always amazing.

Well, it's time to fly for now.

I hope you enjoyed this bit on oaks and acorns.

Before I go. here is your positive thought for the week

The shortest and surest way to live with honor in the world is to be in reality what we would appear to be.

Socrates (469-399 BC) Greek Philosopher

Pretty simple and no wind bag from me today.

The ancients had some wisdom for sure.

Such wisdom that seems to have been lost in time.

I think one of God's universal laws can apply here as well.

'The Law of Cause and Effect.'

With every action, there is an equal or greater reaction.

If I want to be honored, respected and loved..................

I must first show honor and respect, and give love first.

If I want others to help me when I need it...........................

I must help others first.

Yes, show honor, love respect and help others.

Even if it doesn't benefit you now.

You see,

Often we must give up front first.


No one wants to hang around a person that always feels sorry for him/her self.

You want to live with honor and the easiest way to get that is to be honor and love.

To be that person that others want to be.

Pretty simple huh?

Start living it and you become it.

You are what you think you are most of the time.

If you feel weak, no respect, unloved, you are going to show it in your actions.

There are others out there, vultures waiting to prey on the weak.

If you feel like an honorable, loved person, you will radiate these attributes.

Soon, others will want to be with you.

Hang out with you,

Want to be like you in these respects.

Yes, positive attracts positive

Cause and effect.

That only adds fuel to the fire, so to speak.

You smile more,

You live your life with more confidence.

You have taken the surest way to honor.

Not to mention, God sees everything.

You were born to honor, not to be beat down.

You are special.

Tell yourself everyday that you are special.

Believe it.

Live it.

Now smile and live everyday with honor.

And remember.....

Share it.

Until next time my friend.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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