As September closes out most of our gardening season here in Birmingham, I have been hearing a usual sound of autumn hitting the roof of my mountain cabin. Hosts of hickories and oaks have begun dropping their babies to the ground in a plethora of acorns and nuts.
According to one of Extension’s publications; “Management of Hardwood Forests for Timber in Alabama”, we have around 200 different hardwood species in Alabama, including 28 oaks and 8 hickories. Because Southern Pines dominate our timber industries, many people tend to overlook hardwoods. However, based on US Forest Service inventory research, hardwoods comprise the majority of Alabama’s standing timber volume. Here at my Talladega cabin I have black, blackjack, cherrybark, chestnut (mountain), northern red, post, southern red, water, white, and willow oaks. I also have mockernut, pignut, and shagbark hickories along with a whole host of additional hardwoods.
Forest wildlife value these trees for food and shelter. Most of the food value is found in the leaves and seeds. Leaves are eaten mainly by insects that in turn are eaten by other creatures. The seeds are eaten by both small and large alike. How many times have we walked through the woods, picked up seemingly good acorns, only to later find a caterpillar in them? Yes, insects feed on seeds too! Most often, when we in Alabama think of acorns and nuts, we think of deer, turkey, and squirrels. Squirrels need large trees to survive. Squirrels live off the seed source from the trees, and especially like hickories, oaks, and pines. Deer and turkey are different. They require a variety of habitats. They like both field and forest. During the fall, acorns and nuts provide the needed fat in their diets to help see them through the lean days of winter.
Here is an interesting side note; within the white oak family (oaks that produce white lumber) the acorns mature in one year, while those in the red oak family (pink lumber) take two years to produce mature acorns. Also, white oak family acorns tend to be larger than the red oak acorns. Humans can also consume acorns, but they are not as tasty as your cultivated pecans. The meat inside the shell contains higher levels of tannic acid than what we are use to. Native Americans used to collect acorns from white and chestnut oaks along with American chestnuts, black walnut, and wild pecan as a food source for the long winter months.
Autumn is my favorite season of the year. Cool Canadian air, leaves a changing on the hillsides, and college football. It began three weeks ago with a thud on my roof. This season offers many blessings.
written by Andrew J. Baril of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
Photo credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Female_wild_turkeys.jpg , D. Gordon E. Robertson
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