Wildlife will feast on this year's bumper acorn crop

Originally Posted Online: Oct. 07, 2010, 5:54 pm
Last Updated: Oct. 08, 2010, 6:44 am
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By Lindsay Hocker, lhocker@qconline.com

An abundance of acorns means full bellies for Quad-Cities wildlife this winter.

Amy Blair, assistant professor of biology at St. Ambrose University, said she began noticing a large number of pin oak acorns in her Davenport yard and elsewhere in the city a few weeks ago.

She estimates she's picked up thousands - which she'll use in composting - and more still are falling.

It "seems like a bumper crop out there," Ms. Blair said."They're pretty deep out here on some of the sidewalks."

Paul Brewer, Illinois Department of Natural Resources wild turkey project manager, said the number of acorns produced each year varies by oak species and location, and is dependent on the weather when the trees are flowering.

There are about 20 oak species in Illinois, according to the Illinois State Museum's tree website at www.museum.state.il.us/exhibits/symbols/tree.html.

Mr. Brewer saidthere are some "amazingly good" white oak acorn crops throughout the state this year. "I would say definitely in parts of the state it's a bumper crop."

The Illinois State Museum site says the white oak, which is the state tree, begins to produce acorns when it's about 20 years old. The number of acorns produced varies every year, with an especially large number of acorns produced every four to 10 years.

Bohdan Dziadyk, an Augustana College biologyprofessor, said the white oaks he's seen on campus have had very few acorns, but the red oaks and some black oaks have dropped a lot of acorns.

"The red oaks have produced a good crop of acorns. In some places they were practically touching each other there were so many on the ground," Mr.Dziadyk said.

Mr. Dziadyk said acorns have a bitter taste because they containtannic acid, but many animals don't seem to mind the taste, and they once commonly were eaten by Native Americans.

People can leach out some of the tannic acid with water and use acorns to make bread, he said. Recipes for acorn bread can be found online, at sites such aswww.jackmtn.com/acornbread.html.

Jeffry Hawes, Black Hawk College associate professor in horticulture, said record rainfall last spring, followed by warm, sunny weather provided "optimal conditions" for acorn development this year.

"Generally, white and red oaks tend to be more prolific in terms of acornproductions under such conditions," he said.

Ms. Blair said the trees dropping massive amounts of acorns this year will produce a small crop next year, because each tree is basically putting "all of its eggs in this year's basket."

By dropping an excessive amount Ms. Blair said the tree ensures that even if most acorns are consumed by animals, "some of them are going to sneak by (and grow) since there's so many out there."

While squirrels love to "squirrel away" acorns for winter feasting, Mr. Brewer said turkeys, deer and blue jays also enjoy munching on acorns.

The 20 native oak species in Illinois are the Bur oak, chestnut oak, chinkapin oak, overcup oak, post oak, swamp chestnut oak, swamp white oak, and white oak in the White Oak family.

In the Red Oak family are black oak, blackjack oak, cherrybark oak, northern pin oak, northern red oak, nuttall oak, pin oak, scarlet oak, shingle oak, shumard oak, southern red oak and willow oak.

Source: http://web.extension.illinois.edu/forestry/il_forest_facts.html


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