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Be careful! Once you fall in love with California’s oaks, you’re in it for real. There’s no turning back. Your love affair with these magnificent trees will last the rest of your life.
At least, that’s what happened to me.
I got sucked in as a kid. I remember late afternoons wandering deer trails through the giant oaks of Arastradero Preserve, just west of Palo Alto. There’s a softness to this landscape, a gentleness that helped slow me down and connect deeply with my surroundings. Those experiences are burned in my memory and oaks will always be a symbol of home for me.
When I got a bit older, I got curious. The more I learned about California’s oaks, the deeper I sank into this arboreal love affair. Here’s some of what I learned in your first Minute with Matt, a new video series where I explore our local wildlife, plants, farms and our work protecting open spaces:
As it turns out, I’m not the only one in love with these trees. Thousands of species (yes, thousands) depend on California’s oaks. Life collects around these grassland monarchs and makes use of their flowers, twigs, leaves, branches, trunks and deep roots for shelter and food.
Food, that’s the big one.
Each fall, oaks produce millions of nutrient-rich acorns (18% fat, 6% protein, 68% carbohydrates). It’s nature’s all-you-can-eat buffet, and a healthy one at that. Acorns are one of the best sources of food for animals looking to pack on a few pounds before the long winter. Deer, for example, can eat up to 300 acorns in a day and, in the fall they will make up half of their daily food intake.
But there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding acorn production. No two years are the same and scientists still don’t quite understand why. We do know that oaks produce heavy acorn crops every two to seven years. They call these heavy crop years “mast years” and, not surprisingly, scientists have found that they are linked to reproductive success within the entire food chain.
Why are there differences between acorn production from year to year? Maybe it’s the weather? Or maybe they’ve learned to defend themselves? After all, having tons of acorns every year would lead to explosions in the acorn predator populations making it difficult for young oaks to make a stand in this world.
So there you have it. My love affair with California’s great oaks continues. If you haven’t already, I hope one day you too fall in love with these iconic trees. But remember, you’ll never be the same.
Watch more Minute with Matt videos here!
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects and cares for open space, farms and parkland in and around Silicon Valley. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 75,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.