This should be called the year of the fantastic nut crop: acorns by the ton, walnuts carpeting the lawn, and buckeyes remaining unharvested because there is a food surplus in the backyard like never before.
The Ohio Buckeye tree is loaded with nuts, which the squirrels should have harvested by now.
Why is this happening? I don’t remember there being great spring weather; oh wait, I was in the UK during spring. The summer was the usual blend of hot and humid interspersed with cold and rainy, so it must have been perfect for growing a huge nut crop. But why have all the oak trees in the backyard gone crazy with acorn production?
The forest floor has become crunchy with fallen acorns. This is just what the squirrels leave behind.
We are experiencing a “mast year” in oak tree production of acorns, which happens irregularly, every two to five to seven years. And it’s happening in not just one species of oak, but simultaneously in the three most common Minnesota oak species — the northern pin oak, the northern red oak, and the bur oak.
In a normal year of acorn production, animals consume or store most of the acorn crop, leaving little chance that the nuts could sprout into seedling oaks. Photo by Charles Alsheimer.
In a recent post (September 12), I discussed how trees “talk” to each other, and this synchronous boom production of acorns is a good example of the result of that communication, which can occur not only locally within a forest, but over broad distances. Basically, mast production of acorns is the trees’ combined strategy of satiating the acorn consumers so that the leftovers can develop into seedlings.
The oaks must have been talking to the walnuts in the backyard as well, and the squirrels are just not able to keep up with the bounties of this fall harvest.
Bring all your friends, Mr. Squirrel, I’ve already raked up a garbage can full of walnuts.
The perfect response to this enormous fall bounty — “stop, I’m full already”.