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The acorn falls

Late September is one time of year that we all take notice of nearby trees. Even those of us living in a site devoid of trees will be dazzled by the ones seen along a driving route or commute. Indeed, with all their leafy color, they are hard to ...

Late September is one time of year that we all take notice of nearby trees. Even those of us living in a site devoid of trees will be dazzled by the ones seen along a driving route or commute. Indeed, with all their leafy color, they are hard to not notice.

Though a drab arboreal show was predicted, recent rains and cooling temperatures have allowed the trees to respond with the expected reds and yellows. Reds take our attention mostly. Red maples, sumacs, dogwoods, pin cherries and the vine Virginia creeper demand our attention.

However, yellows outnumber reds, and birches, poplars, willows, basswoods, mountain maples and hazels cause us to take notice as well. The

abundant quaking aspen golden glow is a bit later. And many claim the sugar maples -- with their yellow, red and orange attire -- steal the show.

We enjoy this rainbow scene each fall, but it is a sign that the foliage time is over in the Northland. Soon, winds and rains will bring down this color, and trees will stand leafless until next May. But what a show to end with.

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The annual leaf drop is not the only fall happening now.

This is also the time of year when other tree growths mature along the branches. Apples, crab apples, hawthorns, highbush cranberries, hazel nuts and seeds of maples, ash and basswoods all hang on the trees now, in late September.

Maybe the one most known is the seeds of oaks: the acorns.

The north country is home to only two kinds of oaks; the well known red oak and the less common bur oak. While the former is named after the leaves that turn red in fall (usually seen among smaller trees), the latter gets its name from the huge cap that almost completely covers the acorns, looking like a bur. Oaks abound in the southern part of the country with maybe 50 kinds in the warmer areas. All grow this nutty type of fruit that we call acorns. Southern oaks will produce each year, but, in our northern clime, our crop is every two years.

Acorns of the red oak form in a small cluster on the end of divided branches. Here they grow for two summers, holding on during the winter between. Reaching about one-inch long, the greenish growths of summer become brown when ripening in autumn. Each acorn is attached to the twig by the top of the cap. When finally loosening its grip with maturity, the acorns drop and their falling sounds add to that of the other noises of the season, day or night.

Not usually eaten by us, and not always appreciated, acorns serve as a valuable food for many Northland critters: squirrels, chipmunks, bears, deer and blue jays. Some day they may provide food for another bird that appears to be moving into our area: the wild turkey.

For now, they mark another step in our traveling from summer to fall.

Larry Weber is author of the "Backyard Almanac." He lives in Carlton County and teaches natural science at Duluth's Marshall School.

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