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How Acorns Grow into Towering Oak Trees That Feed Wildlife

Every fall oak tree foliage turns from green into shocking reds, flaming oranges, and distinctive yellow hues. While these leaves are a delight to behold on the ground and along oak branches, they often outshine the real labor of a tree's love: acorns.

Throughout the spring and summer, oak trees nurture acorns. At the first warmth of spring, an oak tree buds. As spring continues, the oak's relatively unremarkable blossoms are fertilized by bees, butterflies, squirrels, birds and other creatures that wander through the tree's branches. Once fertilized and set, the tree begins to nurture its acorns. At first, they are small and green. They start to plump up as the summer heat intensifies and oak trees use their strong roots to reach for water and nutrients.

Just as the leaves begin to change and a chill fills the air, acorns turn shades of brown.

Acorns fall to the ground as squirrels jump from oak branch to oak branch. Wind and rain toss more acorn seeds towards the field. Other acorns grow too heavy for the branches that yield them, and they drop to the ground. While some of these seeds might turn into new oaks, the majority are used as a food source by the very creatures that fertilized the blossoms several months earlier. Deer, squirrels, blue jays, magpies and another wildlife feast on the acorns and store them throughout the winter. Acorns are tough, hardy seeds that store well and provide nutrition to wild creatures during cold winter months.

A typical acorn that lands in an excellent spot will send an embryonic shoot into moist soil.

The root keeps the acorn firm in the ground throughout the winter months. Once ice and snow have melted and temperatures warm, the acorn begins to break down, and an oak seedling emerges. It will take approximately two decades before the oak starts to produce enough acorns to feed and nourish wildlife.

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