October is THE month for acorns. Depending on where you live, most of the acorns from your oak trees may have already dropped. In the warmer climates, acorns are just now beginning to mature and fall. Regardless, whether you are looking at the ground in a dense forest in the north or in your own backyard in the south, you will likely find more than a few acorns resting there during the month of October.
Acorns have always fascinated me. I became even more fascinated with them last fall when the huge ones that drop from my two Bur Oak trees literally covered my front yard. In the North Texas area, we certainly had a bountiful acorn crop in 2010. I could not walk to the mailbox without “skating” down my sloped yard or performing a spontaneous break dance!
As you know, acorns are the fruit, or nut, of oak trees. In past times, humans consumed acorns much more readily than we do now. I’ve not tried acorns myself, but from what I’ve read they can be quite bitter. There is a process, however, if you have an interest, to make acorn meal minus the tart tannin taste. See http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles2/clay79.html for the detailed instructions, plus recipes.
Of course the most well-known critter to enjoy acorns is the squirrel. Among the other wildlife that partake of these tree nuts are various tough-billed birds such as blue jays, woodpeckers and wild turkeys, as well as mammals such as mice, rabbits, opossums, wild boars and deer. Indeed, acorns provide a large percentage of the food of forest-foraging creatures in the fall, and for those that hoard their food, acorns will provide sustenance throughout the winter.
Acorns are found in varying sizes and shapes, plus they differ in concentration of tannins, in accordance with the type of oak tree from which they fall. As I mentioned above, I have two Bur Oaks in my front yard and I am still amazed at just how large their acorns are – the largest found in North America, actually. Their fuzzy caps remind me of beach huts. Interestingly these large nuts have less tannins than most acorns and are favored by squirrels and deer. And as mentioned in another post, I also have a Texas Red Oak in my back yard and its acorns are what I’d call small to mid-size. They are reminiscent to me of Scottish golfers wearing tams. Red Oak varieties tend to have a higher concentration of tannins than most. I also have one Live Oak. The acorns of the Live Oak are small compared to other oaks. Unlike the Bur Oak and Red Oak, the Live Oak has the wonderful attribute of being evergreen. My Live Oak is 19 years old, provides greenery and shade to my patio year ’round, and is absolutely magnificent in size and shape. Unfortunately, my research did not find the tannin content of the Live Oak but I suspect it is mid-range.
Speaking of tannins in more detail, I learned that some of the finest hams come from hogs that have partaken of acorns with very high tannin content. Of special note is the delicacy, Spanish Iberico Ham. Think of it in terms of the taste of a fine, mature red wine and this makes a lot of sense!
Well, if you don’t have a pen of pigs to feed, what can you do with all those acorns you rake up this year?
Use Acorns in crafts and/or for decoration or donate to an organization that will (Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Parks & Rec groups, Master Gardener groups, schools.)
Very important: Before acorns are to be used in any craft or decoration project, it is important to wash them, spread them on a foil covered cookie sheet and bake them at 250 degrees for about an hour to rid of worms, etc. Be sure to completely allow them to cool before handling.
- Simply add prepared acorns to a glass container or vase and create a centerpiece or side decor during the fall months.
- Make tiny, cute Jack-o-Lanterns out of acorns for Halloween!
- Make hanging acorn ornaments for Halloween, Thanksgiving and/or Christmas.
For more fun ideas on crafting with acorns, along with directions, see: http://www.artistshelpingchildren.org/acornsartscraftstideasprojectskids.html.
Donate Acorns to a Local Wildlife Sanctuary or Rehab Organization
- Last year I had over 50 lbs of Bur Oak acorns to donate AFTER hosting multiple Christmas ornament decoration parties with my nieces and nephews. I called around and discovered a local wildlife sanctuary was housing two disabled whitetail deer, one blind and one lame. The folks at the Heard Museum McKinney Texas were ecstatic to receive the acorns. After dropping them off via my way into work one late fall day, I couldn’t have felt better!
- Acorns are among the easiest of “seeds” to germinate. Some acorns actually begin the growing process the minute they hit the soil, in fact. If you have any large tubs or planters about your yard, toss in some soil, add a few acorns, and wait patiently until spring. I guarantee you’ll have a sapling or two to transplant or to share. My mom has a couple of Bur Oak offspring from my trees that are now about 10-12 feet tall and which will soon provide her a bit of shade (and, not to mention, the largest acorns in the US).
As I wrap up this post, I wanted to share a little more about the plants from which the acorns fall.
In addition to the three types of oak trees on my property there are many, many others – in fact, there are an estimated 400 – 600 species of oaks in existence today. White Oak, Pin Oak, Post Oak, Black Oak, Chestnut Oak, Willow Oak, Water Oak, Chinkapin Oak, Harvard Oak, Lacey Oak, Bigelow Oak (thought to be the smallest acorn producer), Spanish Oak, Sawtooth Oak, etc., etc. For scientific names and an interesting map of the range of various oaks (and other trees) in the United States, go to: http://esp.cr.usgs.gov/data/atlas/little/.
Lastly, acorns should be a reminder that all great things start small. An example of an early variant of this adage is found in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, 1374 – “as an ook cometh of a litel spyr” (a spyr, or spire, is a sapling). So as I end this post today, I encourage you to begin that project, take that first step toward a goal, and envision that dream – all the while keeping near the thought “mighty oaks from little acorns grow.”
Until next time,