BUMPER CROP OF ACORNS: Only 1 in 10,000 grows into a tree

Valley oak acorn
Valley oak acorn

Got acorns? California's valley oaks are bearing exceptional crops this fall. "We're drowning in acorns," says UC Davis oak expert Bethallyn Black, a Cooperative Extension specialist based in Pleasant Hill.

Here are some of the most common questions Black is asked, and her answers.

Q.: Do all these acorns mean we will have a cold winter?

A.: No. Trees have no ability to predict the future. It's not what is going to happen, it is what did happen: The January freeze killed some acorn-eating insects, and the unusually dry April helped a lot of acorn flowers to be pollinated by wind.

Q.: Are all these acorns in my yard going to sprout?

A.: Only one in 10,000 acorns grows into a tree. Even those won't sprout unless we get average rainfall in January through March, which wets the soil enough for an acorn's tap root to take hold. The long-range forecast doesn't look promising for that much rain.

Q.: And if the forecast is wrong?

A.: If you don't want your yard to turn into an oak savannah, dig them up.

Q.: We have a growing turkey population in our town. Are the acorns going to have an impact?

A.: Probably. My neighborhood in Walnut Creek has a flock of 30 or 40 thug turkeys walking around, flexing their big muscles. They love acorns and, with this huge food resource, I am anticipating we will have a lot of healthy baby turkeys next spring. Lots of ground squirrels and feral pigs, too.

Q.: What can I do with all these acorns?

A.: You could get a turkey-squirrel-pig. Otherwise, rake them up and put them with your other yard trimmings.

And yes, Native Americans ate acorn meal, but grinding and leaching them is a lot of work. And no, wildland managers who plant acorns for restoration do not need any more; they have plenty of their own.

Q.: Any other ideas?

A.: Make an acorn cap whistle. Directions: www.sciencetoymaker.org/acorn/assembl.html.

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Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556, dljones@ucdavis.edu

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