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When and why oak trees overproduce acorns

The state tree of Illinois is the White Oak, a tree known for the acorns it produces and drops, year over year, during fall time. Whether you you’re a fan of these fall time staples or not, you may have noticed that during some years, oaks produce a plethora of acorn, while other years there may be a middling supply. This phenomenon isn’t random and has an interesting scientific explanation.

During years of drought, like we had during summertime 2021, oak trees will produce a notable difference in amount of acorns. When there is little available water for oak trees to absorb through their roots and through the air, this will put oaks into a state of stress. When oak trees are in this state of stress, their biological response is to ensure the survival of oak trees (even if the tree creating the acorn dies). To maximize the chance that an oak tree that dies during drought gets replaced in the wild, oaks will create an abundance of acorns at the end of a drought year, giving that tree the best chance it has to replace itself.

Oak trees aren’t the only classification of tree that will overproduce seed during times of stress and drought. Hickory trees and walnut trees are two similar trees to oak trees, in of that they both produce a similar fruit to the oak’s acorn. Hickory trees produce hickory nuts and walnut trees create walnuts, both are large nuts that are produced by their trees that contain the seeds that will grow a new tree. During the autumn of a drought year, hickory and walnut trees will overproduce their fruit, just as oaks over produce acorns.

Another classification of tree that behaves in a similar manner in drought as oak trees, are maples. The year after a severe drought, maple trees will overproduce samaras in springtime. Samaras are the scientific term for the helicopter-shaped seeds that fall from maples. Similarly to oak trees, hickory trees and walnut trees, maple trees will overproduce seeds in spring as a survival mechanism for the genus.

As mature trees have substantial growth, it would be difficult to water a grove of old growth oaks during a drought. Luckily, mature trees that have years and decades of growth should be able to stave off the worst of a year’s drought. Newly planted trees and trees under 10 years old, however, should be soaked with as much water as you can spare, in order to tide the tree over to the next year.

Trees are living things and thus have survival mechanisms embedded in their genetic code to ensure survival. Just as humans get a burst of adrenaline to help get someone through a dangerous situation, trees have means to ensure that they will survive and mechanisms to bear through difficult conditions. Oak trees will over produce acorns during the autumn of a drought year to ensure replacement, which can be considered as the tree protecting your investment in it. Investing in plant life is an excellent addition to your landscape, and even better if that plant life does some of the caretaking work for you.

Whispering Hills Garden and Landscape Center is a full service landscape center and nursery located in Cary, Illinois. Stop in today for our full selection of oaks and shade trees.

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