Whether you have a stand of oaks or the tree stands alone, you might have noticed the lack of acorns this year. Although it might be a bit early to determine whether this is true, I've definitely seen a distinct lack of activity in our resident squirrel population. Usually around this time they're scurrying around like crazy, transporting the acorns from our pin oaks to spots where they can dig them up later.
Causes for the scarcity of acorns in some years and bumper crops in other years still are uncertain. According to a 2005 article published in American Scientist, the reason for the ups and downs of acorn production is still a mystery. It could be a late frost killing the female flowers. Or lack of rain during the growing season, or heavy rainfall during the pollination period.
An interesting term associated with oak trees is “masting.” The term comes from the Old English word maest, which refers to the nuts of forest trees that have accumulated on the ground that were used for fattening swine. The phenomenon occurs in populations of oak trees that synchronize their reproductive activity. Although how it’s done is still unclear.
It could be that the trees had produced a bumper crop the previous year and has gone through a kind of recovery in the next season. An interesting site where you can learn more about acorns and oak trees is the Hastings Natural History Reservation of the University of California.
* Oak trees can start producing acorns when they are 20 years old, but sometimes can go all the way to 50 years for the first production.
* By the time the tree is 70 to 80 years old it will produce thousands of acorns. When the tree reaches about 100 years of age, it starts slowing down until it reaches a yearly production of about 2,200 acorns per year.
* A variety of wildlife depend on acorns as a food source, including white-tailed deer, gray squirrels, fox squirrels, flying squirrels, mice, voles, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, gray foxes, red foxes, wild turkey, bobwhite quail, wood ducks, mallards, woodpeckers, crows, and jays.
* Acorns from white oaks, such as the common white, bur, and swamp white oaks, grow and fall to the ground every fall. Those from red oaks, including the northern and southern red, pin, shumard, shingle and water oaks, remain on the trees for more than a year, falling to the ground in their second autumn.