Oak trees produce thousands of acorns every year. Somebody has worked out that an oak tree can produce ten million acorns over its lifetime. In a good year, they carpet the ground under the tree.
They are an important part of the diet of many of the park’s inhabitants: pigeons, jays and woodpeckers, squirrels, and all kinds of mice. The deer that visit the park, roe and muntjac, will eat them as well. As the growing season closes, the acorns provide densely packaged protein and fats for creatures that need to fatten up before the hardships of winter.
Many eat ripe acorns from the ground where they fell, with no reproductive benefit to the tree, but some, in particular jays and squirrels, take the acorns away and cache them by burying them some distance from the parent tree. This is their food store for the winter.
Both squirrels and jays seem to be able to remember where they buried their acorns but both bury far more than they need; the RSPB has estimated that a jay can cache up to five thousand acorns in a single season. Those that are forgotten or just remain uneaten germinate in the following year.
For the oak tree this is a really good seed dispersal strategy; tempt other species into cooperation with tasty, nutritious seeds, ready-packed for the larder.
Pictures Creative Common (CC0)