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Mighty oaks grow from little acorns … and scrub jays

By Gary Bogue
Thursday, May 8th, 2008 at 6:52 am in Acorns, Nature, Open space, scrub jay.

My friend Brian of Walnut Creek, Calif., has a special way of looking at the land that we can all benefit from. He sees it through Mother Nature’s eyes.

A case in point. Brian is very much involved with the Walnut Creek Open Space Foundation and one of his special projects, among many, is to help plant oak trees in the Walnut Creek open space areas. Not by simply poking holes in the ground, dropping in acorns and kicking a little dirt over the top of the oak seeds.

No, nothing quite so complicated.

Brian has a different way of “planting” oaks. He lets Mother Nature to do most of the work. She doesn’t mind, you know.

Brian uses scrub jays.

Scrub jays have this compulsive urge to collect acorns, eat a couple and then stash the rest for later. Only “later” never comes for the majority of those stashed acorns and they eventually sprout and start to grow.

I received a recent e-mail from Brian relating a chat he’d had with a UC-Berkeley forestry professor who had a graduate student who was doing a study of scrub jays. The student watched what the jay’s were stashing and counted over 4,000 acorns stashed in one season.

Brian is a wonderful wildlife photographer and therefore a student of careful observation and a very practical man. He has observed that when presented with acorns the jays look for places to stash them, like pushing them into the ground under little rocks, sticks, etc.

So Brian figures if you were to pick a spot where you wanted new oak trees to be planted and there are scrub jays in the area, you could spend a couple of minutes dropping little rocks and other items around the area marking where you’d like the oak trees to be planted. Then set up an “acorn distribution center” — large bowl filled with acorns for the jays to stash — and stand back.

The jays take acorns from the pile and poke them into the earth under the little rocks and other items and PRESTO … those acorns have all been planted … right where you want them to be planted.

“It’s a seasonal project,” says Brian. “Fall, collect acorns and put out little rock markers. Spring, go out, check for seedlings and screen them.” (You circle small oak seedlings with wire screens to protect them from browsing deer until the seedlings grow large enough to survive on their own.)

Brian says he thought this would be a great “kid friendly” project to get children out into the open spaces, to get them hooked on wanting to be future stewards of the land.

Wish I’d thought of that! Go Brian! /Gary

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No Responses to “Mighty oaks grow from little acorns … and scrub jays”

  1. Bill Feil Says:

    I agree with you Gary, Brian is a wonderful wildlife photographer and he is a good steward of our open spaces. While it may be more practical to hand plant acorns to get a more efficient response, the idea of using scrub jays delights me. Anything that will get the interests of children of all ages involved in ecological matters is great. Let’s keep the kids engaged and get them started on a project of watching scrub jays do thier best work.

  2. Gary Bogue Says:

    Bill:
    If scrub jays did their best work … Mount Diablo would be the largest peanut farm in Northern California (just kidding!).

    Anything we can do to help young people get engaged with nature is a very good thing. /Gary

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