GREENSBORO, NC -- This Kids Want To Know question came up while my family was hanging out in the backyard. My nephew, Cooper, was interested in something he found in the grass.
"What is all this stuff inside this acorn?" What I love about this KWTK segment is the adults learn something with every kid question.
What Cooper found in my backyard isn't really an acorn, but it is a nut. Karen Neill at the NC Agriculture Extension office says this is in the hickory family, it's a pignut. But what's inside the pignut and what is inside an acorn are the same properties. Karen explains.
"We have various types of nut trees in this area. We've got pecans which people eat. We have the black walnuts which people eat. We got one called pignuts and of course we have our acorns. Chestnuts would be another one that fit that list."
With all the nuts, the interior portion of the nut is really not there for us. But it is a protein source and many animals, including deer, squirrel, it can be our birds. They forage on these as a food source because it does have that high protein, high carbohydrates and fats in there.
"Now, as far as things like acorns, we can range in size from one to six centimeters, so very small, to very large. And what can happen is, and this is true with some nut trees, you have a very heavy production one year and then a light production the next."
The years we tend to see very heavy production of acorns and other nuts often times when there is a stressor on the tree, whether we are in a drought, whether there's been damage to the tree. That's because the tree wants to make sure that it's producing enough offspring, so at least one of those will germinate and make a new tree. The pollen is part of the germination and the new nuts and acorns.
"Many of the trees now are laden with pollen which many of us are sneezing as a result of. The pollen source in this case, which they produce tons of this, is because this is a wind-blown pollen so that we can get the best possible pollination that we can."