New England is blessed with white, black and red oaks along with other occasional species such as chestnut oak. Their fall color is just now beginning to show up as russet, scarlet and gold. All oaks are extremely valuable plants for wildlife. Entomologist Doug Tallamy notes that the leaves of one oak tree will support over 517 species of Lepidoptera (the order of insects that includes butterflies and moths). Nearly all of us have at least one oak in our yards!
If you don’t have an oak but want one, I suggest you not purchase a balled and burlaped tree from a nursery. Oaks have a long taproot which may be broken in digging from the nursery row. Further, the transplant may not “take.” Doug Tallamy suggests sowing acorns in pots, then planting the young tree out in two years. Oaks are fairly fast growing trees.
Did you know that it takes two seasons for an acorn to form? What with two seasons of bountiful rainfall, this is truly a big year (or mast year) for acorns. They’re like marbles underfoot in some yards right now, so watch your step!
Many mammals collect and feast on acorns: bear, deer, squirrel, chipmunk. We can, too, with a bit of effort, just as the Native peoples have done for generations.
I took wild gatherer Tim Swanson’s acorn class last fall. He noted that one should wait until November to gather the best acorns, as the oaks will drop the immature and insect-ridden ones first in September and October. He removes caps, soaks the acorns, dries them, grinds them into a flour, and bakes tasty breads, muffins and crackers. I thought these foods were quite delicious! While I doubt I will have sufficient time for all the processing, this class gave me new insight into the hidden value of the acorn.