The tales acorns can tell

Lately I’ve been stumbling over acorns when I walk.

This year’s annual nut-drop brought to mind two things — 1) the “Farmer’s Almanac” hard-winter predictors (voluminous acorn fall is an example), and 2) how little I know about Southern Oregon native oak trees.

No, really. Once in a while I like to flaunt my lack of knowledge concerning local nature after having lived here 35 years. I came to the conclusion recently that I’ve been taking our native trees for granted all this time, and truth be known, I didn’t know one oak from another, though I respect them.

From an internet harvest I learned we basically have three types of native oak. There’s the Oregon white oak, California black oak, and the Joad-oak, which is a far-reaching attempt at pun humor best left unexplained. No, the third species is the canyon live oak. Oregon State University has a very nice website called “Common Trees of the Pacific Northwest,” which describes the differences among the three.

The Oregon white oak has grayish bark and acorns about one inch long with shallow caps (think beanies). Rarely do they thrive west of the Coast Range summit, because they don’t like getting their feet wet. Actually, that’s true of all our oaks. They prefer semi-arid conditions. That’s why oaks begin to croak when folks turn oak savannas into farm or grazing land.

The California black oak snuck in when the price of real estate to the south made it worthwhile to relocate, but they only migrate about as far as Roseburg. Their bark is dark and the acorns are one to two inches long with deep pockets, I mean, caps.

The canyon live oak has a dual personality and is the life of any arboreal fling. It can be a tall shrub or tree and has two types of leaves on the same stem. The bark is scaly grayish-brown, and the acorns can be longer and skinnier than others, up to two inches. They thrive in rough, dry country of southwest Oregon and along canyon floors after a party. So, now you may point with pride at the next oak you see with your friends and call it like you see it.

Now onward to the “Farmers’ Almanac” signs for a hard winter. These prophesiers have sworn by their system since 1818, long before the days of weather apps, radar or Matt Hoffman. They list 20 different signs you may view on their website, and they’re very good I’m sure, but I question some of them.

They say if corn husks are extra thick, it means a frigid winter in store. But my indicators say that if I’m laying it on a bit thick in this column, that we could be in for some seeming interminable weeks of bleakness.

Another harbinger according to the sages at FA is spiders spinning larger webs and entering the house in great numbers. That’s not only a sign of a cold winter, but a sure bet of Peggy becoming a snow bird and flying south.

Woodpeckers sharing a tree made the list, though the almanac failed to mention they’re rarely on speaking terms by winter’s end. One last signal of exceptionally frostbitten conditions is pigs gathering sticks. I’m not making this up. It’s on the list. I can only lay blame with whoever raised the poor things for never reading “The Three Little Pigs” to them. Otherwise, they would know that sticks won’t cut it. Gathering sticks?

You might get the cold shoulder from friends and family if you talk about who you voted for, but do it anyway, then heat up your environs with a good discussion. Meanwhile, the signs point to an average winter for us, so get a load of firewood and find someone with whom to share your tree.

Reach (me) Peggy Dover at and on her Facebook page.

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