A Mast Year for Acorns

September 25, 2016

Mast year acorns

For weeks now the rain of acorns has been falling with its unique staccato beat…first a crack when the acorn hits a branch or two as it plummets thirty feet or more from the oak tree’s crown, then a thud as it strikes the ground, followed by a soft “phish” as it bounces and settles.  Acorns seem to be everywhere these days, making walking crunchy underfoot. They pile up quickly on the forest floor, but also on lawns, decks, porches, and stoops. 

2016 is a mast, or boom, year for red oak acorns in Maine. The acorns of red oaks require sixteen months to mature, so whatever conditions helped make this a good year for acorns were in place two springs ago.  We don’t know why oaks produce a superabundance of fruit every two to five years but we do know that the boom years have a reproductive advantage for the trees.  The production of more than enough acorns to satisfy all of the many animals that feed on them, from chipmunks to wild turkeys, means that a sufficient number of acorns will be left uneaten.  This makes it highly likely that some will end up in the right conditions for sprouting next spring… a strategy of success through surfeit.

 
With no wind they fall,
when the wind gusts still more fall—
Year of acorn feasts

Red oak/acorn

 

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