Have you noticed an abundance of tree nuts in The Parklands and maybe even in your own backyard? That’s because it is a mast year. “What is that?” you may ask. Well, a mast year is when tree nut production is high, producing 5-10 times more nuts than the average year. At times, it may feel like they are raining from the sky!
The cause of a mast year isn’t known, but scientists have proposed a range of explanations such as weather conditions, environmental triggers, pollen availability, tree health and chemical signaling. If the spring is warm and dry, greater pollination can occur, causing the production of more nuts. A tree must also receive adequate sunlight, water and nutrients throughout its life to be healthy enough for seed production. Seed production requires a great deal of energy, so stresses to a tree such as fungus or insect infestation negatively affect the amount of nuts produced.
Some trees have a two-year life cycle—only producing nuts every other year—while other trees produce them annually. This difference in life cycle and other factors is why mast years typically happen every 2-5 years.
Mast years are beneficial to the animals – squirrels, mice and deer – who consume these nuts. An overabundance not only helps these animals survive winter, but it also provides more opportunities for germination and new trees.
The Parklands is home to a variety of trees, but the most common nut you’ll find this fall comes from oak trees ... Acorns! Some acorns are easier to distinguish than others. The Bur Oak acorn, with its large size and hairy cap, is easiest to identify and my favorite.
Grab your family and friends and head outside for an acorn hunt! The Coppiced Woods Trail in Beckley Creek Park is a 1.8-mile trail with a variety of oaks, such as Bur oak, Chinkapin oak, Red oak and White oak. It will only take a few seconds to find your first acorn on this trail!
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