Mike Ezell

Mother Nature takes care of its own. Everywhere you look you can see an interconnectedness of relationships.

Acorns are one of these. This fruit of the oak tree, with its seed enclosed in a tough, leathery capsule and capped by the tree version of a beanie, is the seed of the some 30 or so oak species that we have in Alabama.

Acorns to us animals are large and efficient stores of nutrients. They contain large amounts of protein, carbohydrates, fats and minerals for our consumption. They are easy to pick up off the ground, can be stored if guarded well from others, and their production is steadily every 6 months to 2 years, depending on the species.

We humans don’t eat them because of their bitter ingredient, Ttannins, but these are easily boiled or soaked away and were an important food source for previous generations of Native Americans and frontiersmen.

With other animals, however, it’s a different story. Bluejays, deer, bear, squirrel, ducks, woodpeckers, rodents, mice, moths and weevils all consume acorns steadily as a reliable food source. They even cache stores of these nuts to help them survive the harsh, unforgiving winter.

This is where the oak tree wins. Although consumed acorns never give birth to a tree, the caches and hidden stashes of these fruits are in perfect conditions for seed germination. Location is important for a momma oak does not wish its offspring to be in the shade of itself, but prefers at least sixty feet away to give it the best chance to grow and survive. Animals grab the bounty and run with it, taking it away and unwittingly out of the parent oak shade and root area. Many plants with smaller seeds can easily be dispersed by wind and water, but oaks require gravity and animals to spread their species and regenerate the forest.

A mature oak tree can easily produce over 20 thousand acorns in a good year. That’s a lot of potential offspring, but, hey, the forest has a lot of mouths to feed. Oaks and animals are, and will always be, interconnected.

Visit our parks and marvel at the oaks and the plentiful bounty nature produces here. Plants and animals depend on each other and we humans can fit nicely into its patterns of tranquility and beauty.

Enjoy your time outdoors, it does good to mind, body, and soul.

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