By Andrew J. BarilIt began a week or so ago. In the middle of the night, before the rays of sunlight early Friday morning, I heard a plunk on our roof. This is a sound I know well. My wife and I have been living in our little mountain cabin for almost ten years now. I’ve heard this sound before. For the months of October and November, I will be hearing the plinking of oak acorns and hickory nuts on our metal roof.
Here at our Talladega cabin we have a host of oak trees. We have black, blackjack, cherrybark, chestnut (mountain), northern red, post, southern red, water, white, and willow oaks. We also have mockernut, pignut, and shagbark hickories along with a whole host of additional hardwoods. 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 so 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.
Most of our forest wildlife friends value these hardwoods 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 the 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 seed sources from 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. 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 accustomed. Indians 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. As a 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.
Fall is my favorite season of the year. Cool Canadian air, leaves changing on the hillsides, and college football. For me, it all began this weekend with a single plink on my roof.
Andrew J. Baril of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
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