The Acorn Situation

Okay, Science-y types, you’re going to have to take a minute to explain this acorn situation to me.  I get that, throughout the east coast and sneaking west towards the Mississippi, there are no acorns.  I heard it on NPR last night.  I read about it online.

And I listened to your explanation that different oak trees have different cycles for when they produce acorns and that some years they produce more and some years they produce less and this year, apparently, they’re producing none.

All well and good.

How is that decision made?

See, I can buy that each kind of oak might have a cycle that it acquires genetically, so that a particular oak produces acorns one year and not another.  And I can see how every tree of that kind that is that age (or the right number of years in the cycle older or younger) might not produce acorns in the same year.

But what, exactly, is the mechanism for conveying to a whole population, across different types of oaks, across different states, that there should be no acorn production?

23 thoughts on “The Acorn Situation

  1. Sounds like coincidence to me. Several different species just happened to hit their barren year at the same time for once. Like when you buy hot dogs that are 8 to a pack and buns that are 6 to a pack. If you buy enough of each you end up with an equal amount.

    Okay, so that makes no sense, but I always wonder why they don’t synchronize the numbers.

  2. Yes, W. [B. looks shifty-eyed], that’s what you science-types would like us to believe, but not every oak species has a barren year. Some produce acorns every year, except this one.

    I suspect the oaks are about to rise up and take over.

  3. I had acorns so thick and plentiful this year that you could walk for twenty yards across my lawn without ever setting foot on the actual ground under the acorns.

    My theory is that oak trees have bark that itches and they need a squirrel or two to run up and down the trees to soothe that itch. Since I’ve bumped off most of the squirrels in our yard this past year to protect the garden from the little bastards, the oaks are retalliating against me and trying to tease the remaining squirrels into breeding like rabbits in the expectation that the trees’ itching gets scratched come springtime. It’s a conspiracy against me.

  4. Hmm. Jim. It does seem suspicious that you seem to be the only one with acorns.

    I’m not sure what it means, but I’ve got my eye on you.

  5. They communicate to each other with chemical signals, just like their signal to produce a chemical that makes us humans want to kill ourselves, or to make stupid movies.

  6. What? No acorns? There are plenty of acorns up here. Washington Park’s paths are full of them and in crunching around through the Adirondack forests the other weekend, I can’t say that I noticed any slackening of acorn production (though I wasn’t looking for it, admittedly). I am no tree expert, but I think that a) it’s a clear overstatement to say that all oaks are having a barren year (though it may be a low acorn year overall) and b) like W says, given a long enough observation window, you’ll have more sub-species hitting a barren year all at once.

  7. Another instance where the “inside the Beltway” conditions get confused for what’s going on across the nation.

  8. Look around at all of the nut producing trees in this area this year. There is a bumper crop of hickory nuts, hazelnuts, black walnuts and pecans, not to mention acorns. A lot of this abundance is due to the results of the last few years of drought and shortage. There were tons of berries out and about this year as well.

    Chemical signals, natural conditions or bat signal who knows how it all works. I would guess that weather conditions and pollinators have a big influence on it all though.

  9. I think it is cyclical. I know in recent years, it’s been the same situation with pecans. Either everyone I know with a pecan tree in their yard is worried about the limbs snapping under their heavy burdens and begging you to come pick up their excess pecans or the opposite – bemoaning the lack of produciton.

  10. There’s a walnut tree across the street from us, it bore like crazy this year and the falling nuts dented our neighbors’ car. Naturally, my next-door-neighbor was out there with a bag trying to pick them all up out of the street before the neighbors whose tree it is could get them.

  11. It’s wrong, but I love hearing stories about your neighbor. Of course, I mean, of course your neighbor was out there trying to get those nuts. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

  12. Oh, she’s great for generating stories. I would never deny that. And the truth is that despite her awfulness she brought up 8 kids with little help from her husband (he left [or maybe she kicked him out] when the youngest was a baby), and all of them turned out well except for Larry the drunk, and most of them got themselves educated, too, so she must have done something right. And at least, considering how Larry vandalized my bushes, she didn’t ask me for any tomatoes this year. She did ask me if I was thinking of growing beans next year on the fence right next to her yard; I’m sure she’s thinking that she can help herself that way.

  13. Since I live slap in the middle of Arlington, I guess it is incumbent upon me to do some spot checking on this issue.

    Right now I’m thinking I can just do some canvassing by asking various groundskeepers and homeowners about their nuts.

  14. The only problem I see with that is that your just asking people might not be creepy enough to plant the seed (so to speak) that the trees might come and get us at any minute!!!!

    Could you consider asking them while also looking at them kind of shifty-eyed? Or, if you’re not comfortable with that, telling them that a shifty-eyed woman on the internet asked you to ask them?


    I crack myself up.


  15. When we had a late frost, my oaks produced no acorns. This was not because of any cycles with barren years, this was because all the acorn flowers were killed by the weather. Similarly, when we had a drought, my oaks produced few acorns.

    This year, we had wonderfully warm spring weather and warm fall weather and lots and lots of rain, and my yard looks like jim’s.

  16. I wish I could actually pull this off because I’d totally do it. The internal 12-year-old would totally sabotage me though.

    Maybe I should practice on my coworkers first.

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