The Seasonal Almanac: Autumn Acorns From Oak Trees, Parade of Planets and Colors of the Moon

The Seasonal Almanac covers astronomical events and nature, including autumn acorns from oak trees, planets visible after sunset and colors that surround the moon.

| October/November 1997

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    A picturesque view of Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and the Moon at dusk in Arizona's Superstition Mountains.
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    Leonid meteor streaks through sky during meteor shower at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
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    We all have been reminded at some time or other that mighty oaks from little acorns grow. But how often do we really look at this fruit in all its variety of size, shape, and styling?

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The Seasonal Almanac shares astronomical events in October and November 1997. This issue includes autumn acorns from oak trees, a parade of planets and colors around the moon. 

We all know that autumn acorns from oak trees fall and accumulate on the ground in fall, of course. And we all have been reminded at some time or other that mighty oaks from little acorns grow. But how often do we really look at this fruit in all its variety of size, shape, and styling?

Each acorn has its cup, but that cup may be very shallow or may almost completely enclose the nut. The cup may be rough, prickly, or have smooth scales. The nut itself may be roundish, tapered, or even cylindrical. The surface of the acorn nut sometimes has a rather rough finish but may also have a seemingly waxed or varnished look and feel. Then there is the color of acorns. The variety is not as great as that of autumn leaves, but you'll be surprised if you start picking them up and looking. You'll see mixtures of green, yellow, and every kind of brown from tan to mahogany. The hues are muted compared to some autumn leaves, but perhaps that is a pleasant contrast—and it seems appropriate for so humble a thing.

Acorns come only from oaks. There are two major classes of oak, the white oak group (with rounded leaf lobes) and black oak groups (with pointy leaf lobes), and their acorns are remarkably different in their life-stories as well as in some other ways.

Perfect acorns of the white oak itself are hard to find because they grow and fall in just a few months, and then quickly decay or are seized as food by a wide variety of animals and birds. They're also hard to find because the white oak doesn't mature enough to bear acorns for about 50 years! In contrast, acorns of the black oak family take two years to ripen, so some are always on the tree. In fact, there may be two generations of them, distinguishable by size, on a tree at once. Furthermore, once these acorns do fall to the ground, they prove quite resistant to disintegration and are not a favored food of wildlife because they are bitter. The acorns of the chestnut oak, a member of the white oak family, are said to be the sweetest (in northern forests at least) for human beings to roast and eat.

Can acorns or their gatherers be weather prognosticators? Some people say that if squirrels are collecting unusually great numbers of acorns in autumn, a hard winter is sure to follow. That either trees or squirrels or both could be affected by a prolonged spell of cool weather in summer or autumn seems reasonable enough. But temperatures rarely remain significantly below-average (or above-average) for several seasons in a row—a very cold autumn is not frequently followed by a very cold winter. Only factors like certain ocean current temperature changes in parts of the mighty Pacific seem to be reliable predictors of what some regions' general weather will be like months in the future.

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