2009-07-04 / Outdoors

Thinking fall in summertime

I recently spent a week in southern Mexico, in mountains that were about 5,000 feet above sea level. The forests were incredibly diverse, but many of the species were the exact same temperate species we have in the eastern U.S.

Most obvious where the ever-prevalent sweet gum, white pine, and ironwood. Other were recognizable as being sister species to trees in our forests. Elderberry, hawthorn, wild grape, and dogwoods could all be found in the highlands, but most visible were the numerous oak trees.

In the area I was visiting, I could readily make out five species of oaks, all of which were loaded with developing acorns. According to locals, a few of the oaks were deciduous, losing their leaves each winter. Most were evergreen, though, much like the live oaks in the southern U.S that keep their leaves year round.

Worldwide there are about 400 species of oaks, unique to the northern hemisphere with populations being found in Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and in the new world from North America extending south through Central America and into northern Columbia.

Mexico is home to the largest diversity of oaks in the world, hosting 160 species. One species in Mexico, Quercus insignis, has acorns the size of an egg. Image the deer and black bears that would flock to that bounty if it were in Pennsylvania!

The majority of Mexico's oaks are found in the mountains. Some are quite rare and in danger of extinction.

The United States is second in diversity, home to approximately 85 oak species. Due to hybridization, there is some disagreement between experts on an exact tally.

In Pennsylvania, 17 oak species naturally occur. However, here in Northcentral Pennsylvania, the number of naturally occurring oaks is much lower. In the Sinnemahoning Creek watershed where I live, I have encountered populations of six species — northern red, black, scarlet, scrub, white and chestnut oak. Adjacent areas host naturally occurring populations of swamp white, dwarf chinkapin, pin, bur and shingle oak.

Occasionally, an exotic Asian species is encountered in our region, sawtooth oak, which is often planted for wildlife and reported to be somewhat invasive when it escapes from plantings.

The more I studied the oak species, the more I began thinking about what really matters: our oak mast crop this fall and how it will affect the distribution of game populations.

In Cameron County and southern Potter County, it appears that we will have a good crop of red oak acorns this fall. The white oak acorn crop is another story, though.

I have seen white oak acorns developing around where I live, but these trees are heavy producers and often produce acorns when there is no production on other white oak trees. From my own travels and in talking with other observers, it seems the crop will be spotty at best this fall.

I have also seen some black oak acorns on a few trees, but this also seems spotty. What I'm really keeping my fingers crossed for is a good chestnut acorn crop centered on lower First Fork.

I have not yet spent much time in the area, but when there is a heavy crop of chestnut oak acorns in southern Cameron County, it's a recipe for a successful bear season for the crew with whom I hunt.

Time will tell.

Return to top