When I purchased my 1920 Arts & Crafts bungalow in a turn-of-the-century neighborhood in Central Iowa, I also inherited stewardship of a handful of the most majestic of forest trees. What I did not anticipate was the total inundation of my property with their hard-shelled progeny. We’re talking acorns here, and bushels of them. My yard and garden is currently being showered with a bumper crop of White and Bur Oak acorns. Not only do these seeds smart when they bean you on the head, they also leave behind their calling cards as annoying little dings on cars that dare park beneath their laden branches.
According to the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, oaks trees are dropping an exceptionally large number of acorns this year. “This is one of the heaviest years I’ve seen for acorns, not just in the Chicago region, but in other states as well,” says Kris Bechtell, Vice President of Collections and facilities.
A year of such heavy production, called a mast year, is a natural, cyclical process that apparently helps to guarantee a species’ survival, and does not harm the trees. Each fall, tree roots store energy that’s used the following spring to expand buds and create twigs and leaves. A mast year does not leave oaks with a large energy deficit of otherwise harm the trees, according to Dr. Gary Watson, Senior Scientist and Head of Research.
Why a mast year? Experts theorize that if oaks produced the same number of acorns every year, predators would eventually become so numerous and consume so many acorns that there would not be enough to both feed the predators and grow a new generation of seedlings. During mast years, predators are over-saturated with acorns, providing enough acorns for the predators as well as for the future of the species.
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