Why Oak Trees Decide to Make More Acorns
It’s hard to believe how much noise something smaller than a thimble makes when it falls 60 or 70 feet. On warm autumn nights, if the windows are open, we hear acorns ripping through leaves and thudding onto the roof of the toolshed. When there was an aluminum canoe out there, turned upside down, the cascade sounded like a Jamaican steel band.
Most of what’s inside an acorn is protein to nourish an infant tree, producing more oaks. But squirrels and other inhabitants of the wood—chipmunks, deer, rodents, even birds—also eat acorns. In the old days, farmers used to drive their pigs into the woods to fatten on heaps of fallen acorns.
Oaks produce more nuts than all other trees put together. In a good year, an acre of red oaks can produce 500 pounds of acorns. Not all years are good for oaks, though; scientists think the oaks have abundant acorn years at irregular intervals so that the creatures that eat acorns can’t consume the entire crop in one year. There’s a theory that the oaks “choose” when to produce a supercrop, communicating with each other by emitting chemical signals through their roots.
All those thudding, ripping, and clanging sounds that keep us awake are oak trees talking to each other, planning a sophisticated strategy for survival.