Northland Nature: Noisy acorns tell of changing season
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at email@example.com.
Migration and leaf colors along with cooling temperatures tell us of September happenings. Mushrooms may proliferate in the woods and spider webs abound in yards, roadsides, fields and wetlands. The sun rises now at 6:40 a.m. and sets about 7:30 p.m., giving us shorter daylight, and soon, we will experience the autumnal equinox: daylight and darkness equal.
The days, weeks and months following will have more time of darkness than light. But we also see the production of the summer.
Late summer wildflowers of goldenrods, asters and sunflowers are still easy to see as we drive by and they’ll be with us for the rest of the month. Garden produce is plentiful with many changes from what we saw earlier. The products of the garden are only some of the results of warmer days that we see now. Woodland plants, shrubs and trees are showing what they have produced as well.
Walking in the woods, I find the red or white berries of baneberry and blues of Clintonia. These spring flowers of May are now mature. The larger shrubs of raspberries may still hold a few red berries while blackberries are with drupes of dark colors. The wild roses that gave such beautiful pink flowers earlier in the season now hold red berries, known as rose hips.
Other small trees and shrubs respond, too, and I see the dark fruits of chokecherry and black cherry and reds of sumac and honeysuckle. White berries hang from the red-osier dogwoods while pagoda dogwood berries are dark. Highbush cranberry has red berries; arrow-wood berries are dark. Both are species of Viburnum.
Even the vine Virginia creeper has dark berries among the twining leaves and stems. Wild plums and crab apples ripened to join the list. And of course, the domestic apples brighten these days.
But Northland trees show other types of production. Looking into sugar and mountain maples, we see clusters of different types of seeds: the winged samaras. Not quite as flat, but a similar type is that of ashes. A couple form hardened seeds we call “nuts.” Hazelnuts are plentiful, but it is difficult to find ripe ones when squirrels and bears are in the region. And there are the acorns of oaks.
This is the home to two kinds of oaks: northern red oaks and bur oaks. (White oaks and pin oaks may be to the south and west of here.) Finding acorns of bur oaks is quite unusual, but red oaks with acorns is common. At this latitude, the crop is formed every two years. A year ago, most of the trees in my yard and woods held small partially developed acorns.
After this past season, they now have clusters of developed acorns, green turning brown. Their nut crop has seeds protected by a smooth outer cover and a rough-looking “cap.” The small stem on the cap attaches to the tree branches until something makes it fall.
It appears as though the local squirrels have learned that these acorns, often still green, can provide food for their ever-growing cold-weather caches. And so, they bite the top of the acorns causing them to drop. The yard and driveway is littered with acorns. It appears to be just another critter preparing for the coming cold. But some oaks grow next to the garage with its metal roof and when the acorns fall on this surface, they send a reverberating sound that tells of their harvesting.
Often, squirrels are early risers and pounding sounds on the roof welcome the dawn. This will pass, but the noisy acorns tell us of the changing season.