This time of year is when the woodland trees are showing signs of the changing seasons. While we have been enjoying the summer weather and hoping it might last a bit longer, the trees are preparing themselves for what is to come. The tail end of the season is signified by leaves losing their deep green colour and vibrant glossy appearance. They have worked hard, providing energy for the incremental annual growth and withstanding attack from a multitude of insects while hanging on during the occasional summer storms. Their job is done for the time being. They will soon drop to the woodland floor and begin a new function, providing nutrients for the mini beasts of the leaf litter, becoming part of the next cycle, next year.
Each of the woodland trees creates far more seeds than they need to purely sustain their numbers; seeding the next generation. In a good year, one large hazel bush may produce hundreds of nut shells, but only a fraction will become mature, seed bearing hazelnuts. At this time of year, the trees are dropping some of the “non-viable” shells. They fall to the ground, allowing the tree to concentrate its efforts on the nuts that will swell and fill the shells… only to be consumed by a passing squirrel, dormouse or jay.
The few that find their way to the soil level will change from pale green to brown, then they have to wait until the next spring before germinating and taking their chances as a fresh green seedling in the woods where herds of hungry deer roam.
Acorns have varying levels of success year on year, from a “mast” year when copious weighty seeds drop from the branches to other times when acorns are scarce. It’s all a part of nature’s survival mechanisms. The Forestry Commission explains that “Mast years are a natural phenomenon where some tree species produce very large crops of seeds in some years, compared to almost none in others. It’s not known exactly why mast years occur, but they have been linked to various causes over the years, including weather and climatic conditions”.
There are two native oaks in the UK and both can be found in Fingle Woods. They can be distinguished under close examination – sessile oak has a shorter acorn stalk than the pedunculate oak.
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by Matt Parkins