Growing in Knowledge of Oaks and Acorns

I have always loved acorns.  My children have gifted me with acorns for years every fall.  After coming in the house with pink cheeks and noses, and shedding jackets, they would often offer up an acorn found in the yard, or the park, or the neighborhood, and almost every one of them has ended up in a bowl somewhere.  Acorn earrings dangle from my ears starting in September, and I shine up the matching pin once it’s cold enough to wear a sweater or jacket.  I love the color of the wood, first a glowing spring green, eventually a rich shiny brown; the jaunty little tops so like a winter cap, or for some varieties, a beret.  I love the overt theology, the mysterious promise of a tree inside each one!

So, I was excited to see the Autumn Study: Oaks and Acorns Notebook Page in Barb’s October Outdoor Hour Challenge Newsletter.   GraceNotes typically looks askance at notebooking pages, but when the idea was pitched as a package deal with walks and bike rides, she somewhat willingly agreed that we would study the neighborhood’s oak trees.   We started seeing oak trees everywhere!  During travels further afield on our Autumn Break, we found ourselves scanning the leaves of trees and searching the ground for acorns.  We found different varieties of oak trees in the Blue Ridge mountains than the ones we have at home.  Now, at the end of our month of study, we stand amazed by the rich variety of leaves and acorns within the Quercus genus!

In fact it got a bit dodgy, trying to figure out what we had sometimes.  For example we discovered a rich cadre of acorns under a large group of trees, near George Mason University, all of which were oaks, but different species of oaks!  While the acorns don’t fall far from the tree, we were surrounded, and found we needed to begin to pay attention to acorn descriptions in our booklet!  We found that the white oak tree leaves in the mountains are different from our swamp white 0ak at home.   And, in the coastal south, our trees and yards offer a few varieties of oak whose leaves look nothing like those in the autumn picture books!  One can only tell that they are oaks by the acorns scattered on the ground underneath.  Our immense laurel oak (Quercus laurifolia) in the backyard has semi-evergreen leaves which aren’t shed until Spring.  They turn slightly yellow, and then are pushed off by the fresh new green leaves.   (Yes, we rake leaves twice a year!)   Sun and shade affects the leaf form as well, with sunny leaves having deeper sinus between the lobes in some varieties.

So we found ourselves pouring over the descriptions in our Common Native Trees of Virginia handbook, and filling in the gaps with the helpful resources at the Virginia Department of Forestry Education website, and Virginia Tech’s Dendrology site.  After all the checking, and measuring, and comparing, we are fairly confident in our identification, but open to correction if we are wrong!

Quite a few notebooking pages are ready to be placed in the Outdoor Hour Nature Journal binder now!  Grace has patiently sketched leaves and acorns with nary a complaint, and actually seems rather pleased with herself!  When I asked her what she thought about this study, she said she thought it was really interesting that oak trees have so many different forms, and other tree species, like the sycamore, are more limited.  (Yay!)  As for me,  I don’t think I’ll look at another acorn without trying to determine which species of oak tree it came from.   To that end, we took one of our cardboard egg cartons and made a little acorn collection for our nature shelf, a la Whitman’s Sampler (candy) style, with all of the acorns that we’ve collected and identified.

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This post is written to participate in the The Outdoor Hour blog carnival sponsored by Handbook of Nature Study blog.  The topic for October is trees!  Please click over and see how various families enjoy and explore God’s world by spending an hour or so outside!

15 thoughts on “Growing in Knowledge of Oaks and Acorns

  1. We joined you in a long study of a variety of oaks. Just wait until you come to CA some day and you will not recognize a single acorn…ours are mostly long and skinny! We have both evergreen and deciduous oaks. This could be a life long study.

    Your daughter did a wonderful job on her journal pages. Please tell her that I really enjoyed seeing her work.

    Thank you so much for sharing your entry with the carnival.

    1. I would love to come and see CA acorns! Surfing the internet I found a chart of acorns from Japan and theirs are mostly long and skinny too! Definitely something I will enjoy studying year after year! Grace beamed and said, “Thanks!” to your kind words!

  2. Wow, how cool to have so many types of oaks and acorns in your area! I too *love* acorns and was hoping to complete this OHC but unfortunately couldn’t find any oaks nearby our house to study. =[ Perhaps I’ll have to extend our search area for next year. I love your egg carton of different acorns – maybe next fall we can hind a similar oak tree mecca. 😉

  3. I think your notebook pages came out really well, but I love the idea you had with organizing your acorns! We couldn’t find much in the way of acorns this year. Some years we are inundated, but it must be an off year for us.


  4. We live in Colorado and our Oaks are totally different from yours. So I really enjoyed this post. It seems as if Virginia has many great tree resources. I’m curious to see what Colorado’s Forestry Department has. Thank you for the idea. Funny how each child loves different aspects of nature study. My 7 year old son loves notebook pages when we get home from a walk and I can tell they will become more involved the older he gets.

    Also, the egg carton idea is brilliant!

    1. That’s awesome that your son enjoys the notebooking pages. I didn’t bring mine home from brick and mortar until fourth grade, and they did so very little writing that she still has a bit of “reluctant writer” in her. It’s getting better though!

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