My over-the-road-oak August

IMG_4353

It’s August and my oak is currently enjoying its view of holidaymakers on both the Duver and the beach.

However, its Hebridean Sheep companions, mentioned in last month’s post,IMG_4336

have eaten through their habitat and yesterday were moved to a new, tastier location.   I’ll miss them.  

With August moving on a pace (and school uniforms appearing in the shops!) I thought this month I would think ahead to harvest.  And of course for oaks, that means acorns.

A little Googling introduced be to the word ‘mast’ which I hadn’t previously understood in this context: (thanks Dictionary.com)

mast, 

noun

the fruit of the oak and beech or noun other forest trees, used as food for hogs and other animals.
Origin:
before 900; Middle English; Old English mæst;  cognate with German Mast;  akin to meat
 
Associated with the term ‘mast’ is the recognition of very variable ‘mast’ harvests.  Some years seem to be boom years, with multitudes of acorns seen littering forest floors.  During these so called ‘mast years’, which occur every 2-5 years, really large oaks can produce up to 10,000 acorns.  In between these years the oaks have few or no acorns at all.
 
This of course prompts the question ‘why?’ and the simple answer is we don’t seem to know for sure.  Strangely, mast years do not appear to coincide directly with particular weather conditions. Whilst pollination and acorn maturation will be affected by weather, the annual fluctuations in rainfall and temperature are just not as significant as the variance of the acorn harvest.

So, if not simply weather, what is the cause?  It appears there have been numerous explanations proposed for this phenomenon, including environmental triggers, chemical signalling and pollen availability, but as yet there is no clear answer.

What does seem to be accepted is that the boom and bust cycles of acorn production do have an evolutionary benefit for oak trees through ‘predator satiation.’ The idea is that in a mast year, predators (squirrels, deer, etc.) can’t eat all the acorns, and so some are left to grow on into oak trees.  Conversely, having lean years keeps the predator populations low, so there are fewer animals to eat all the acorns in a mast year.  The overall result is thus a proportion of the acorns surviving to create new trees.

So, is 2014 a mast year?  Well I think not.  I had to look long and hard to see any acorns at all (although to be fair the vast majority of branches are so high I don’t think I could have seen the acorns without binoculars) but I did find some:IMG_4351I also found some small oak apples, actually about the size of acorns – much smaller than the apple sized one featured in my May tree post. IMG_4354

So, if not 2014, then when?  Well, I will certainly be watching my oak for its next mast year, and I’ll keep you posted.

Lastly, to go out with a bang, my over-the road-oak lit up by fireworks for my son’s 18 1/2th birthday (because we never did it on his 18th).IMG_3787

With thanks again to Lucy at Loose and Leafy for hosting this ‘Follow a tree’ meme.

10 thoughts on “My over-the-road-oak August

  1. Chloris

    Wow, you have done a lot of research. A ‘mast’ erly post. You are becoming an oak expert. It is strange that they can have 10,000 acorns. Even allowing for creatures eating them they can never need as many as that.
    Lovely fireworks.

    Reply
  2. Lucy Corrander

    I didn’t know acorns as well as beech seeds could be called mast. I’m impressed by the boom and bust arrangement. Very clever!

    Reply
  3. Pingback: My over-the-road-oak October 2014 | Duver Diary

  4. Pingback: My over-the-road-oak – December 2014 | Duver Diary

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