Friday, November 7, 2008

Look Out Below!

When Romie was trying to sell me on buying our house back in 1977, one of the things he used as leverage was the fact that there were three large oak trees on the property, with yet another on the neighbors' property that was so close, it looked like it was part of ours.

Though the house was only two years old, the property used to be part of a woods that had been cleared quite a bit for building. These trees had undoubtedly been there for at least a couple hundred years, based on the size of their trunks and how tall they were, especially the one in the front yard. There was also a Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) and a couple of maple trees, though those were smaller.

I loved the trees too - and the house - so it didn't take much convincing for me to agree we should buy the house on its one-acre lot.

Over time, we planted trees of our own - Maples, Washington Hawthorns, Sweet Gum, Cleveland Pears, 'Red Delicious' apple, Scotch pine, Blue Spruce, Dogwoods, Bald Cypress, Ginkgo, a Juniper, Dawn Redwood, various Japanese Maples, Sumac, Austrian Pine, Tulip Poplars, River Birch, Buckeye, Cedar, Weeping Willow, Dwarf Peach, Serviceberry, and a couple that I know I'm forgetting.

Though the majestic oaks are by far the largest of the trees here, they are also the messiest. They don't lose all their leaves in the fall; they lose their leaves all fall, and winter too. In fact, by the time spring comes, you can still see dead, brown leaves on the branches, waiting for the fresh new green ones to push them off.

The fruit of the oak tree is the acorn and some years the trees have a bumper crop of them, like this year. Last year, there were plenty of acorns, but this year there are thousands and thousands. They are so thick in the yard below the trees that you have to be careful while walking, so you don't fall from your feet rolling right out from under you. On hard surfaces, where they can roll after they've fallen from the trees, it's even worse.

As we sit in the house, we can hear the nuts falling on the roof and on a windy day when they fall faster, it almost sounds like hail. The cats love them, because they make the best toys to bat around. I've been bopped on the head a couple of times, as they fell from the branches above me.

So why do the oaks produce so many acorns one year and not the next? It's a natural cycle they go through every three or four years. We've noticed this on our own, and scientists have theorized that it is related to an interaction with woodland wildlife who eat the acorns.

Acorns are a food source for mice, deer, rats, chipmunks, and of course, squirrels. In fact, just about any foraging mammal will eat them. The theory is that the trees overproduce them periodically in order to increase the chances of some acorns being left to sprout and become seedlings.

We've got more than one kind of oak on our property. The largest ones are bur oaks (Quercus macrocarpa), which have the coolest fringed acorn 'hats'. We've also got one we believe is a pin oak (Quercus palustris) that my dad and Romie dug from a nearby woods shortly after we moved here. It's the only one in our yard that turns a nice color in the fall. It becomes red, while all the rest just turn brown.

Identifying oak trees can be difficult, especially if you're trying to distinguish between pin, scarlet, black, or northern red. The Arbor Day Foundation has an online guide for identifying trees that can be helpful.

Another fun thing to do is to estimate the age of your trees. Using this formula, we have estimated the age of the largest oak tree here to be approximately 200-250 years old. Oh, if that tree could talk, it might tell us of the Ottawa tribe of Native Americans that once lived here, or the clearing of the Great Black Swamp for farming. It has been struck by lightning numerous times, as evidenced by the bulging ridges running down its trunk.

Faith sees a beautiful blossom in a bulb,
a lovely garden in a seed,
and a giant oak in an acorn.

~ William Arthur Ward


Anonymous said...

What an informational post about the Oak tree. I know my Pecan Tree does the same thing, producing more nuts some years than others.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I just love oak trees. You are lucky to have such large ones on your property Kylee. We have allowed an oak tree that the squirrels planted grow. I don't know what kind it is but it doesn't have teh pointy leaves. More of a rounded leaf. Maybe someone will tell me what it is some time. IN the mean time we are watching it grow. I have pulled up many of the walnut trees taht the squirrels have planted. I don't want walnuts growing in my garden. The garden is way too small for Walnuts.

Shady Gardener said...

Hi Kylee, Great post. Our oaks produced a bumper crop of acorns this Fall, also!!! Ohmygoodness, I identify completely with how carefully we had to walk outdoors! That's why I sat around for a couple or three days with my husband's shop vac, filling seven five-gallon buckets full. ha. I finally gave up, and left the rest on the ground. The squirrels seem to have devoured most of the rest! (My hubby took them out to our prairie/woodland acres and dumped them as wildlife food. Hopefully the deer enjoyed them out there... because I didn't want to invite them to my backyard! ;-)

Anonymous said...

I read in the Farmer's Almanac just today that lots of acorns means a long, snowy winter ahead. :-\ (Which is what FA predicts anyway.) The trees around here have dropped a larger than usual number of acorns as well. Your oaks are beautiful, Kylee -- they're such a stately tree.

Kylee Baumle said...

perennnialgardener ~ I'm so envious that you have pecans rigth there in your yard! They are my very favorite nut in the whole wide world!

Lisa ~ You should check out the link I posted in this post, for the Arbor Day Foundation. They show different ones and their leaves. Our bur oak has rounded features. We have a swamp oak, too, and it's also got rounded lobes.

Shady Gardener ~ I'm laughing at what you must have looked like vacuuming the yard with a Shop Vac!!LOL! I can believe you got that many though.

Nancy ~ I'd heard that theory about winter and acorns before, too, but I'm not sure it pans out all that often. Of course, winter can be bad in some locations and not so bad in others, so I'm sure it's true for someone!
We lost half of one of the large oaks several years ago to a storm. It grew with a split trunk. It's just a matter of time before the other half goes, but we hope it's many years down the road. If we totally lose any one of them, it would leave a big hole in the landscape!

Katie said...

The pin oaks in my neck of the woods are beginning to turn, and they are a bright spot for me on my drive to work with their color this time of year. But their propensity to keep their leaves over the winter drives me nuts for some reason and makes me look forward to spring that much more.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

This post brings back memories! I grew up in a house surrounded by massive Burr Oaks. It really hurts when one hits you in the head & I learned never to go barefoot in September. Our Oaks always lost all their leaves in the fall. We'd have so many leaves that we'd make huge leaf piles & hide in them & leap out to scare my mom. After my parents moved, my dad didn't want any trees. He'd had a lifetime's worth of raking leaves I guess. I miss them however.

Lythrum said...

I have always been very fond of oak trees and acorns so I really enjoyed reading your post. I used to have a big oak tree in my front yard, but now we are living in an anonymous subdivision and I just have a few trees in the back yard but no oaks. Thanks for the pictures. :)

Cindy Garber Iverson said...

My first thought is... Kylee is living in the middle of a Chip and Dale cartoon! Our California Live Oaks aren't deciduous and are much different than yours so I also had a hard time picturing any tree doing what was portrayed in the cartoons. Now I where the inspiration came from.


Brenda Pruitt said...

The oak trees in my yard are some of my very favorites. Of course living in the Piney Woods region of Texas, we have many tall pines. But the oak leaf is such a regal, delicate-shaped leaf that just to see one lying on the sidewalk is like viewing a work of art.

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