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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Astonishing Acorns

Texas Red Oak is one of many types of oaks that produce
acorns in autumn
Famous for its oak trees, there are more than 50 species of oak native to Texas.  In our region of Central Texas, some of the most common include Live Oak (Quercus virginiana), Texas Red Oak (Quercus buckleyi), and Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa).  

A familiar tree with a stately growth habit, Live Oak is commonly 50 feet tall but with several large, twisting limbs that form a low, dense crown that can spread over 100 feet.  Its leaves are oblong in shape, leathery, 2 to 4 inches long and 0.5 to 2 inches wide.  Slow-growing but long-lived, it appears to be evergreen rather than deciduous since its old leaves fall just as new leaves emerge in the spring.  The annual acorns of this tree are dark brown and shiny, about 1 inch long and 0.5 inch wide, half covered in a gray, downy cup borne on a long stem. 

Live Oak Acorns
Texas Red Oak, also called Spanish Oak or Buckley Oak, is a small to medium tree to 35 to 70 feet tall, and its habitat is restricted to limestone ridges, slopes, and creek bottoms.  Its leaves are deeply lobed and it provides good shade in the summer and deep red color in the fall.  Its acorns are biennial, or maturing every other year, but when they do occur they are plentiful.  They can occur singly or in pairs, are up to 0.75 inches long and 0.5 inches wide often streaked with dark lines, and set in a shallow cup covering one-third to one-half of the fruit.

Texas Red Oak Acorns
A large, deciduous tree reaching a height of 80 feet or more, the Bur Oak has heavy branches that form an open, spreading crown, and leaves with highly variable lobes that can grow to 12 inches long and 6 inches wide.  But what is most characteristic is its’ distinctively large annual acorns, up to 2 inches long, set into a deep mossy-fringed cup that gives this species its common name.  In fact, an alternate common name is Mossycup Oak.  Bur Oaks have a medium growth rate, and develop a deep taproot that allows them to draw water and anchor the tree, even in drought conditions.

Bur Oak Acorn
The origin of the word acorn is dubious, as several sources are possible including Old Norse akarn meaning ‘fruit of wild trees’, Gothic akran meaning ‘fruit’, and Old English aecern meaning ‘mast or oak-mast.’  Mast is a term often applied to the fruit of oak trees, especially when they are used as food source for animals.

In Texas, oaks are important trees for wildlife as they provide acorns for food, shelter in their huge branches, and both food and shelter as they slowly decay.  For humans, oaks protect against soil erosion, buffer homes from strong winds, and provide true beauty in the landscape.  All of these benefits are derived from the simple yet astonishing acorns!