The Wrong Acorns

[or, “How are Acorns Like Pizza?”]

On the sidewalk was a mystery. The evidence? The wrong acorns.

Neighborhood Black oaks are raining acorns onto the sidewalk. Normal, right? But each acorn has been bitten by a squirrel—just a mouthful taken from the top—and then discarded. For years I’ve wondered at this: not just at the extravagance of the waste, but at the species of acorn. It was the wrong one.

Here’s what I knew:
Acorns from the white-oak Group mature in one year, and when they fall to the ground, they germinate ASAP. This is why squirrels nip the embryo before storing a “white” acorn: to keep the fruit from becoming a tree.

Acorns from the red-oak Group take two years to mature—with two generations staggered on the same tree—and when these hit the ground in autumn, they are in no rush. They’ll germinate in spring. All winter, squirrels can nibble “reds” at leisure.

By the way, squirrels don’t need a field guide to tell one oak from another: they do it by SMELL. (Wouldn’t it be neat if we could, too?)

But my Black oak acorns are from the red Group. Why do they get nipped? And why do they get thrown away afterward? Shouldn’t they be duly toted and stored whole?

We see the squirrels at it, by the way. They are Nashville’s usual Eastern Gray Squirrels, and they seem to enjoy lobbing used acorns at our heads. We rarely find perfect fruit on the sidewalk. The vast majority have been de-capped and decapitated, scooped, excavated.

So, this year, I looked closer, and noticed the excavations are not at the embryo end, where most of the bitter tannins are. The bites are at the sweeter end, from under the cap.

The squirrels knew perfectly well they didn’t need to stop these acorns from sprouting.

My conclusion:
This is an example of city squirrels confronted with riotous Plenty: a free-of-charge, all-you-can-eat-buffet.
They simply nibble the best bit, and toss the rest. Because they can.

Like how some humans might eat a slice of pizza from a free-of-charge, all-you-can-eat buffet.
They’ll gobble the good bit—the cheesy, saucy bit—and leave the crust. Because they can.

Look around.
What do *you* see happening, acorn-wise?

WHITE or RED oak?
Local white-oak Group includes:
White oak, Bur oak, Chestnut oak, Chinkapin oak, Swamp White oak, Overcup oak.
Local red-oak Group includes:
Red oak, Black oak, Scarlet oak, Shingle oak, Pin oak, Willow oak.

More #SidewalkNature:

My Instagram posts are 100% nature, and most of it the Sidewalk kind.

I’m not fond of facebook, but some people aren’t on Instagram, so I post nature things there from time to time.

Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist in Nashville, the hackberry-tree capital of the world.

She writes about everyday natural wonders amid every habitat loss, and her essays have appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Fourth Genre, Hippocampus, The Hopper, Flyway, The Common, City Creatures, The Fourth River and other journals.

Her current project is a book of linked essays called “Paradise in a Parking Lot.”