Do you have more acorns than you know what to do with this fall? When oaks produce
loads of acorns, it sometimes is called a “mast” year. Do you remember the oak tree
pollen and all those catkins that fell from oaks earlier this year? Catkins are the male
flowers in oaks. Some people refer to them as tassels or worms. The airborne pollen
from these catkins were part of the reproductive process in fertilizing the female oak
flowers that ultimately resulted in all of these acorns. Oaks produce separate male and
female flowers on the same tree. Female flowers in oaks are very small. You’d have to
look very close to see them. Many oaks did well in their reproductive efforts this spring.
Acorns are oak seeds. This entire process is part of the cycle of life.
There are theories about mast years, wildlife’s use of these acorns and what gardeners
an expect next year as a result of this year’s abundant acorn crop. Timing of mast
years is still a mystery. Numerous theories exist ranging from weather to geography to
the life cycles of predators. The most likely reason for high production seems to be
weather-related. When oak trees have favorable weather at the time of oak flowering
and good growing conditions, the mast seems to be increased.
But mast years happen irregularly, making it difficult to understand what causes a mast
year. Heavy acorn production can occur twice in a row or it might be separated by
several years or more. There’s no good way to predict it.
Mast years are important to wildlife, as acorns are an important food for many animal
species. In low crop years, birthrate for some wildlife species, such as squirrels, will
decline the following year. This also may involve increased competition for food and
survival rates. This year’s crop means that more young are likely to be produced by
animals that forage for acorns.
Wildlife play a big role in forest regeneration. When acorns drop out of oaks, many
animals help distribute these seeds. Squirrels can bury hundreds of acorns. Some of
these acorns germinate and grow to become the next generation of oak trees. Some will
be eaten by birds, bears, deer, rodents, including squirrels, and other wildlife. Rodents
are in turn eaten by carnivores and deer browsing shapes which kinds of plants become
established and survive. All those acorns have far-reaching impact on wildlife and our
So, try to keep this in mind as you are fussing with all those acorns in your lawn and
landscape this season.
Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County, November 30, 2016
The Foundation for The Gator Nation, An Equal Opportunity Institution
Photo: Stephen Brown, UF/IFAS Lee County