Back to the same old story: If you want to know what you’ve got, get down to the simplest unit. In the case of a tree, you may see all kinds of crazy things growing off of an adult. I have seen a tree that was two separate species (a conifer and a leafy tree no less) grown together into what appeared to be one. That was at Genesee Valley Outdoor Learning Center, and I was only beginning to notice that the things in the world around me, trees and birds and weeds; they had names, and some people knew what they were. I remember asking what a very beautiful pink flowered tree was, and learning it was a Redbud. Now I would call it one of my favorite trees, but truly we haven’t been on a first-name basis for all that long.
The basic unit of a tree is the fruit, the union of male and female DNA that, if all goes very well, will grow into a new individual. And the unit of an oak is an acorn. In Spanish it’s a bellota, the symbol of the region of Spain that I lived in once. Extremadura’s free running pigs that grow up to be so delicious as jamón ibérico (to those of us who were not vegetarians while we lived there- alas and alack) eat a diet of delicious Holm Oak acorns. I carried a keychain of this long acorn for years, given to me as a parting gift, and only recently did it really dawn on me that it was from an Oak tree.
Each species of Oak has a unique acorn. This is the amazing basic unit. Finding and acorn is by far the best way to identify a tree. It has gotten me to thinking about fetal growth and development. A little mammal, humans included, starts out looking very similar to other animals. Most go through a period of gill growth, a remnant of our watery past, before growing and shedding more layers and beginning to look like a small somewhat alien version of their parent species.
Perhaps in more fetal form acorns look more like each other. I am dubious though, because at least from the point at which they are visible to me they really do look like mini versions of the full-size acorn. The Northern Red Oak acorn, as my tree teachers all say, wears the teeniest of caps, a beret! The Black Oak acorn wears a larger, shreddier, ski cap over its nut.
Still I was not prepared for what awaited me just in front of the National Capital Grounds on Saturday when Melanie took us on our last Fall Tree Field Trip.
This acorn earned the tree the Latin name Quercus macrocarpa, for big bodied (acorn) Oak. And this is a big acorn, with a huge cap nearly covering it.
Here is one more photo with characteristic white oak leaves in the background.