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Of Seeds, Trees, & Squirrels

hynkle via Flickr Creative Commons

For homeowners, the floating, spinning or tumbling tree seeds that collect on lawns, patios, gutters and driveways require raking or sweeping. Those "pesky" shade trees! Yet consider the tremendous wildlife food source and genetic wealth that seed crops represent, particularly cyclical acorn crops in NH!

Like a squirrel, I began searching for acorns in late summer. The results were inconclusive. Not a bumper acorn crop this year, but a heavy beechnut crop has been reported locally. Lately, there seems to be more regional variability than any reliable statewide trends.

The most prolific annual seed producers are the sun-loving "pioneer" tree species: gray birch, white birch and poplar. These fast-growing and relatively short-lived species produce 1 to 4 million tiny, wind-borne seeds in every pound! By comparison, white pines produce 26,000 seeds per pound and sugar maple produce only 7,000 larger winged seeds per pound.

A much greater overall investment per seed is made by nut-producers: beech and oak. Beech trees pack an average of 1,600 beechnuts per pound. Red oak only 125 acorns per pound. Contrast their seed strategy to the millions of wind-borne seeds of aspen and birch scattered like plankton to the wind.

Seeds are the genetic vault of tree traits for an as-yet unborn forest! Seeds of sun-loving pin cherry and black raspberry remain viable in the soil for a century… Or sometimes they merely feed hungry birds and squirrels!

Naturalist Dave Anderson is Senior Director of Education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, where he has worked for over 30 years. He is responsible for the design and delivery of conservation-related outreach education programs including field trips, tours and presentations to Forest Society members, conservation partners, and the general public.

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