Saturday, January 11, 2014

Emerald Ash Borer

One of my "bad" hobbies is guerrilla gardening.  Guerrilla gardening is the practice of planting or caring for plants on land that is not yours.

My part of Michigan has been hammered by the Emerald Ash Borer.  We experienced a massive ash die-off.

Ash, at least in my part of the world, is a major component in many of the too-wet-to-plow potholes that are major sanctuaries for many kinds of wildlife.  That die-off created a vacuum in the canopy.

That vacuum is unlikely to fill up with a healthy, balanced multitude of species because the potholes are geographically isolated, the seedbanks and natural sources of fresh seeds have been decimated by many decades of commercial farming and development.  Another reason that these potholes will be unlikely to fill up with a mix of species is because very few species of trees can thrive in a place where they are likely to be submerged by water.


One of my recent passions involves acorns.

There are two species of oak trees native to Michigan that thrive in flood plains:  Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) and Pin Oak (Quercus palustris).

Quercus bicolor is in the White Oak family.  It produces large, sweet acorns.  It is fast growing on good sites and can start producing acorns in four years.  Decent selections of Q. bicolor produce vast crops of acorns.

Quercus palustris is in the Red Oak family.  It produces small, bitter acorns.  It is also fast growing on good sites but is a shy producer of acorns.  It is a late bloomer and takes much longer to come into bearing.

Seems like a no-brainer, right?  Just plant the Q. bicolor. But hold your horses.  There is more to the story.

Period of availability

Acorns from the White Oak family quickly germinate and are not useable for food a month after falling onto the forest floor.  Acorns from the Red Oak family do not germinate until early the next summer and are available for food.  Great article HERE.


The nutrient profile for acorns from the White Oak family resemble corn (maize).  Lots of carbs.

The nutrient profile for acorns from the Red Oak family resemble soybeans.  Lots of protein (up to 35% dry weight) and fats.  Fats and proteins are precious commodities in the wild.  According to Marvin Harris, human civilizations rose-and-fell based on the need for fats and proteins.

Looking further afield

Those guys down south are WAY ahead of us in managing land to favor wildlife.  They have identified two bottom land oak species in the Red Oak group that produce prodigious quantities of acorns.  Seed from northern sources might survive in Eaton County, Michigan.  Those two species are Nuttall Oak and Willow Oak.

These two species are so flood tolerant that game managers will flood bottom lands during the dormant season so migratory waterfowl can harvest those acorns.  The trees will stay flooded for two, three months at a time.  The ducks get fat and the trees survive year after year.

Nuttall Oak is thinly traded on eBay.  Willow Oak can be had by the bushel but the seed source is South Carolina.  I found a source of commercial seeds in Missouri (Lovelace Seeds) but Judy is out of the office until Monday (buying trip?).

The hunt continues.

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