Friday, April 29, 2011

Tale Of Two Acorns

It was the biggest of acorns, it was the smallest of acorns...

(Click to enlarge)

These two acorns are from the same "species" of oak.  I love how books like Oaks of North America try to give, for each species, a range of the number of acorns per KG (in the case of one of these it's more like acorn per KG)  When the range spans 3 or 4 orders of magnitude it starts to become somewhat unhelpful in identifying or classifying a given species.

I've said before and I'll keep saying it.  We've had 6,000 years to turn corn into the planet killing soil wrecker it has become.  Just think if we had devoted 1/1,000,000th of that time and energy into selectively breeding oaks for food production!  Give me this kind of genetic variation and 6,000 years and I'll give you acorns the size of watermelons that tap dance and whistle Dixie.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Acorn Flour Made

Well, I got the leached acorns dried and ground (in a coffee grinder - worked great although I'm a little concerned it might have dulled the blades a bit) into a fine meal/flour.

Cookies, sadly, will have to wait until tomorrow.

The flour taste great, although I wish I had leached the acorns for a little longer.  There's still a slight tannin aftertaste - like a great Shiraz.  Also like your tongue is a hide in the process of being tanned.
Again these are sawtooth oak (Q. acutissima) acorns that we're told are very bitter despite being the mast equivalent of crack cocaine for wild turkeys and deer.  Euell Gibbons, in Stalking the Wild Asparagus*, talks about boiling his acorns for 2 hours, and those were chestnut oaks (which he calls Quercus muehlenbergii, so either old Euell got his common name or his Latin name goofed up - probably common name since another name for chinkapin oak - the true Q muehlenbergii - is rock chestnut oak), a "sweet" acorn.

That's OK, come cookie baking time I'll compensate by adding a pinch of extra sugar.  One time, and for some reason I cannot possibly fathom, I was watching a cooking show with that old Cajun dude Justin Whathisname.  He was pouring cooking wine into a measuring cup over pot when he winked at the camera and said, "Whoops, missed dee cup."  That's how I am with sugar in cookies.

* Yes, I will return your book soon... I promise!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Acorns Leached

(Click to enlarge - but it will still be blurry :)

Last night I boiled the sawtooth acorn kernels.  Unlike Euell Gibbons who recommends doing so for two hours, I actually wanted to get to bed at some point, so I boiled them for about 1 hour, swapping the water every 10 minutes or so.

The first two or three times the water turned the color of Lutheran potluck dinner coffee, then more of a latte color, then a very light milky tan.

As I said, I probably should have done it at least a couple more times, but got lazy.  Still, the acorns have lost 95% of their original bitterness, and have a creamy, cashew-like flavor - which is to say they taste great.

And Euell was right when he said, "The acorns turned a dark chocolate brown and were without a trace of their former bitterness and astringency."

The plan is to roast some whole in the oven, salted and unsalted, and grind the rest and dry it for flour.

More later.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Acorns Shelled

(Click to enlarge)

I spent part of last evening shelling sawtooth oak (Quercus acutissima) acorns with my son.  My method: Crack the shell with a garlic press and then peel by hand.  His preferred method: Smash the acorn with a meat tenderizer, then sort out the fragments.  His way looked like more fun (until it came time to clean up, when he disappeared faster than Houdini).  On an unrelated note, does anyone know how to remove acorn shell fragments from under thumbnails?

Tonight they will be boiled to leach out the tannins, dried and ground into meal.  Tomorrow they will be cookies.  Tomorrow night my short term memory will stop deteriorating.  Friday morning I will still forget to put out the garbage.

Many Forest Service and other academic/governmental bulletins in the USA state that sawtooth oak acorns are very bitter.  Those same bulletins, however, state that the acorns are highly valued by wildlife, especially wild turkeys and whitetail deer.  In the meantime, Koreans are clearly eating sawtooth acorns by the truckload.  Something doesn't add up.

My suspicion is that this is a bit of arboreal xenophobia; sawtooth oak is an exotic and potentially invasive species.  While acknowledging its benefits for wildlife (because not to do so would be to lose all credibility) the authors of these bulletins don't want to encourage the planting and potential naturalization of sawtooth oak.

But that's an issue for another day.  The issue for today (or at least tomorrow): cookies!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Morris NNGA Address, Part 2

To continue where I left off from Robert T. Morris's address in the Northern Nut Growers Association 1929 annual report:

My friend, Dr. B. L. McClellan of Xenia, Ohio, sent on some acorns from Yellow Springs in his state. He said that they were not only highly prized by pigs and fowls but that he had eaten them roasted and boiled and found them to be particularly good.  I went out to Yellow Springs (remember, Morris was from New York City) and looked over the oak tree.  It was a narrow leafed chestnut oak (Quercus muehlenbergii).  (OK, hold the phone here.  I know it's a complete shocker to run into an issue of taxonomy and nomenclature in an article on oaks, but chestnut oak is Q. prinus and Q. muehlengergii is of course chinkapin oak - or chinquapin oak depending on your feeling about the letter q.  Could it be that Mr. Morris had two species confused?  Or, more likely, could it be that at that time the two "species" were considered to be, as they should be, the same species? I need to look into this a little farther.)  Other trees of the species grew in the vicinity. There were few chestnuts in that vicinity (and within a few decades there would, of course, be zero chestnuts in the vicinity) and the fruit from this narrow leafed oak took the place of chestnuts for pigs, fowls and boys. (But apparently not for girls - although it's more reflective of that wonderful time when we didn't fracture our prose with slashes - s/he and boy/girl - simply to avoid offense.)

I began to look into the question more deeply... Some of us older members remember perhaps to have seen a hundred thousand wild pigeons sweep into an oak hillside, these to be followed by another hundred thousand and another.  We hardly realized the enormous number of tons of acorns that were being picked up by the wild pigeons.  Oak trees are adapted to a very wide variety of soils, in fact, I do not know that we hvae any soils that bear trees of any kind which will not grow some of the more than fifty species of oak trees and shrubs which are indigenous to this country.  Many kinds can be raised upon the prairies where there are now no trees.  The prairies were treeless in the past because of fires rather than because the soil was not adapted to hardwood growth.

Think I'll stop here to cover a couple of interesting (at least to me) points.

1. I presume he's talking about the passenger pigeon, which once formed flocks so huge they blocked out the sun until market hunting brought it to extinction.  Those flocks, it seems, are another example of people seeing a natural phenomena or state of being and assuming that it was always the case.  Many have instead speculated that those massive flocks of passenger pigeons were anything but natural.  Once hunted heavily by Native Americans, those flocks exploded in size when European diseases took a massive toll on Indian populations.  It would be interesting to know, in turn, how those unnaturally high populations of passenger pigeons affected oak and chestnut regeneration and the availability of food for other species of wildlife.

2. Morris here demonstrates an understanding that landscapes are not fixed or static - an understanding I find in other writing of that time, from Aldo Leopold to J. Russell Smith, but which seems to have been lost to a great degree today, when all changes in cover type are attributed to global warming.  Morris looks out over the vast prairie of the American Midwest and sees not a perma-prairie, but a landscape forged by fire (both natural and, just as often, human-caused), a landscape that could support trees that could in turn feed the nation.

If it was a question of ripping out big bluestem to plant oaks even I would be hard pressed to advocate this idea.  But since it's now mostly a question of replacing corn, wheat and soybeans, I think turning the prairie over to trees - oak trees - is a brilliant idea.

Monday, April 18, 2011

People much smarter in 1927 than 2011

Reader David Olsen has been kind enough to send excerpts of publications of the Northern Nut Growers Association from the 1920's - an address given by J. Russell Smith in 1924 and the annual report from 1927.

To the extent that any of this material was ever under copyright I doubt it is any more, and even if it was this information is so important - if it was true then it is 100 times more true (if indeed it's possible for something to be "more true") today - that I doubt anyone would object to me reprint huge chunks of it in their entirety.

Original text is in bold.  My comments are in italics.

Robert T. Morris was a friend and correspondant of J. Russell Smith and is quoted - or at least referenced - in Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture.

By Robert T. Morris, New York City

Most of us have had a sort of general knowledge about acorns without thought of their potential in the way of future food supply.  It was only when my interest happened to become engaged in a special way that the subject began to expand rapidly and I soon found that a whole lifetime could be devoted to this one subject.  (You don't say...)  The situation was very much like that in which the German professor found himself when he suddenly realized that he had wasted a lifetime on verbs when he should have given all effort to concentration upon the dative case.  (I can't think of anything more tragic.  Actually I hope that studying acorns isn't anything like that at all.  And since I had no idea either...)

The subject of acorns for food supply has remained in the background for the reason that farmers are now producing so much more food than we can use that they do not know what to do with the over-supply.  Farmer are trying all sorts of quack methods for relief in order to escape from a situation which they have brought upon themselves.  (It is now 84 years later and they still are, although I should say it's a chicken/egg issue: are farmers growing too much grain because of the perverse system of incentives provided by the government, or is the perverse system of incentives in place to rescue farmers who can't stop growing too much grain?)  The next move, it seems to me, will not be so much in the way of finding new food supplies but rather the cheapening of those which we already have.  (See also: high fructose corn syrup)  Cheapening of the ones we already have will occur when the expense of labor and tillage of the soil for the raising of annual crops will diminish and we then turn to subsoil crops which avoid the expense of tillage and labor.

Acorns already belong to tree crops which are utilized largely as food for livestock and fowls and in many parts of the world they constitute a basic food supply for man.  It is only recently that the screw point of my interest in acorns became engaged in thread of the subject.  (I love that little turn of a phrase... get it?)

To see where the screw point of Robert T. Morris's interest led him, tune in to the next episode of "As The Acorn Turns."

Friday, April 15, 2011

What Is Native? Ongoing, half-baked musings on "native" versus exotic trees

I grew up in the Minneapolis suburbs, but I have spent much of my “adult” life in two different small upper Midwest towns: Baraboo, WI and Northfield, MN. Baraboo is home to the International Crane Foundation, which absolutely everyone should visit someday. It’s an amazing place which has accomplished amazing things, on land close to Aldo Leopold’s Sand County farm.

Shortly after moving to Baraboo I gave my visiting brother in law a driving tour of the town. As we circled the old-fashioned town square I said,

“Every Thursday on the square we have…”

“Hangin’s?” he interrupted, in an exaggerated drawl.

“No, smart ass, those are Mondays at noon. I was going to say concerts.”

I currently reside in Northfield, MN which is famous (in its own collective mind) as the last place where the James & Younger gang tried – and failed – to rob the bank, six minutes of drama which is faithfully reenacted the first weekend after Labor Day every year.

The two towns are similar in several respects: both are old river mill towns, both have smallmouth bass populations skilled at avoiding my lures. But one similarity is particularly striking: The way locals give directions to disoriented strangers.

“Yah, okay, you take this road to where Betty’s Diner used to be, and you take a right.”

“You know where the Casey’s used to be? Yah, turn left there.”

And the stranger is thinking, You idiot, if I knew enough about this Podunk town to know where Betty’s Diner used to be I wouldn’t be asking you for directions.  It occurred to me that we sometimes think of the landscape the way small town locals think of their towns: In terms of what used to be there.

Central Minnesota? Yah, that’s where the paper birches used to be before their range started shifted north in response to Global Warming.

But clinging to what we remember – to the way things used to be – is not a very instructive or helpful way (and can, in fact, be a dangerously limiting way) to understand our natural world, and is especially not a very instructive way to think about the concept of “native” plants.

Aldo Leopold, in A Sand County Almanac, tells us how his land changed cover type dozens if not hundreds of times over the years, as the forest moved south only to be pushed back north by the prairie.

Is the climate warming? Probably. Is it due, at least in part, to human activity? Quite possibly. But the fact is the climate is always in a state of change, which means by definition it is always either warming or cooling, and the landscape is constantly changing in response.

Add to that the fact that no landscape is static; landscapes follow an inexorable successional march from a ‘pioneer’ landscape to a mature or ‘climax’ landscape, only to experience a major disturbance or change (often fire, often human caused in an attempt to manage and influence the landscape) and start all over again.

So what is native? The answer seemed simple to me 25 years ago in forestry school (a lot of things seemed simple to be 25 years ago). Now I’m not so sure.

What is native? Hawaii has vegetation. (Think about it.)

What is native? My son enjoys looking through and sketching birds in the Sibley Guide which has a section on European “accidentals.” Birds sometimes cover unfathomable distances, disoriented or blown by storms. And when they do they no doubt plant some exotic and invasive seeds on that foreign ground before trying to figure out where they are, how they got there, and where they can get a proper cup of tea or a suitable croissant.

What is native? Despite repeated archaeological finds that tell us humans of thousands of years ago travelled and traded across vast distances, we seem to express surprise each time another such finding is published. Regardless of the merit of his scientific theories, the minute Thor Heyerdahl’s Ra II landed in Barbados it probably deposited totora seeds on the shore. How did totora get to Easter Island? Was it birds (as most scientists theorize) or South American travelers as Heyerdahl conjectured? Either way, at one point it was an invasive.

What is native?  The place where I am now sitting was, not that long ago, covered in ice.  Actually that was only two weeks ago.  But what I meant was that it was covered by a massive glacier year round.  Whereas now it's only nine months per year.

OK, I better get back to work. And a bottle of my second favorite tree crop (and John Adams’ favorite), hard cider, is also calling my name on this Friday afternoon.

Oh, and if you’re ever in Northfield, look me up. I’m not far from where the Ole Store used to be.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Acorns Good For Your Brain

I knew it all along!  Eating acorns makes you smarter.  Literally.  Or at least it could help stave off dimentia

Interpretive Summary: In this paper, ARS scientist collaborated with scientists at the Rural Development Administration of South Korean government to investigate the effect of dietary supplementation with acorn (Quercus acutissima CARR.) on brain dementia using a mouse model. To assess the effect of acorn, the level of acetylcholine which is a very important neurotransmiter was measured in untreated and acorn treated groups. The results showed that dietary supplementation with acorn gave a slight increase in the acetylcholine level in mice fed acorn diet compared to untreated mice group. These results indicate that acorn (Q. acutissima CARR.) plays an effective role in an attenuating various age related changes such as brain dementia including learning and memory impairments (emphasis mine). This information will enhance our understanding of how diet such as acorn can improve learning and memory function and will facilitate the application of dietary use of acorn as a functional food to improve brain activity in human.

Brain activity in human?  I wonder which human they are referring to.

Of course I have eaten more acorns than anyone I know and I still can't remember where I parked my car (usually with the lights on) at the mall, but in my defense I've been like that ever since I can remember.  So to speak.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Walden Acorns

In Walden Henry David Thoreau writes, "According to Evelyn, 'the wise Solomon prescribed ordinances for the very distances of trees; and the Roman praetors have decided how often you may go into your neighbor's land to gather the acorns which fall on it without trespass, and what share belongs to that neighbor (emphasis mine).'"

A) I guess we, as readers, are supposed to know the Evelyn is John Evelyn

B) I wonder how often I would have run amok of the praetors in my acorn gathering excursions!

Friday, April 8, 2011

A red oak is a red oak is a red oak...?

I took advantage of the gorgeous weather in the middle part of the day (this being Minnesota and three hours later it is, of course, no longer gorgeous) to do some raking.  One of the many ironies here at Oak Watch is that while our yard is very heavily treed, we don't have any oaks... other than my little nursery growing potted trees. (BTW, I was wildly and unexpectedly successful in my negotiations with my daughter to use part of "her" garden to grow my oaks this year.  I get 1/4 of it.  The shady part.  Which is much more than I expected!)

Why was I raking in spring?  It sure wasn't for the pleasure of inflaming my mold allergies (that was just an added bonus; we don't get into pollen season for 4-6 weeks yet, and I'll give you one guess as to which tree's pollen I'm most allergic to).  It's because our street is home to several northern red oaks.  Red oaks that finally get around to dropping their leaves a) the day after I rake in autumn, and b) the day before the first snow of the year.  And judging by the sheer volume of oak leaves in my yard every spring when the snow melts, it would seem that every oak on the street is located directly upwind from us (upwind in this case being north, west, and south).

(Click to enlarge)

A taxonomist would probably tell you that all of the oaks on my street are northern red oak, Quercus rubra.  I picked these three leaves out of the same leave pile.  The middle one, I'm sure, is from a tree I have written about before that I'm convinced is a Q. rubra x Q. palustris (pin oak) hybrid. 

No great overriding point here except a sunny day and a turn at the rake gave me another opportunity to muse about oak taxonomy, variation, and hybridization... and how, in my humble opinion (who am I kidding? my opinion has never, ever been humble) 2 out of every 3 oaks you see is a hybrid (and they hybridized with the 3rd oak you see).

The background, by the way, is a red oak floor I installed myself.  I thought it appropos.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Arkansas oak update

A forester in Arkansas has been doing me the favor of trying to track down the Arkansas oak (Q. arkansana) in Howard County, Ark. that held the title as National Champion until it was usurped in 1997 by a Covington County, MS tree of dubious identity (an Oak Watch correspondent on the scene believes the MS tree is simply a wider leafed water oak variant).

Turns out the Howard County tree is no longer with us.  However, a different Arkansas oak, this one located in Saline County, Ark. is now under consideration as at least the new Ark. state champ, and perhaps national champ.  Measurements are being finalized.

I couldn't resist searching on Saline County Arkansas + oak trees, and found this:  To quote heavily:

"The Saline County group of the First Arkansas Infantry Volunteers in the War Between the States was organized at Benton, in April 1861.  The company congegrated at the home of Johann Wilhelm Shoppach, on North Main Street, under a virgin oak tree, where they were presented with a Confederate flag, which had been made by the women of the Shoppach family.  From there, 'midst the blessings of their friends and the weeping of their families, they marched on to Little Rock so rapidly that they had the distinction of being the first company of volunteers to reach the designated rendezvous.

"The Company was named Company E, First Arkansas Infantry Volunteers, and in the organization, James F. Fagan was elected Captain and commanding officer.  When the company became part of a regiment, Fagan was commissioned a Colonel; and it was under his command that the group journeyed to Virginia, reaching there in time to engage in the first serious conflict of the war - the First Battle of Bull Run, fought July 21, 1861.

"After this Confederate victory, the Arkansas Company was sent to a spot about ten miles west of Fredericksburg, Virginia, where they were encamped on Acquia Creek, a tributary of the Rappahannock River, to keep the Yankee gun boats from ascending the streams and to prevent Federal Burnside and his men from crossing westward."

I'm having trouble seeing through the subtle, unbiased prose to ascertain the sympathies of the writer.

It is clear, however, that Saline County gave mightily to the war effort, and that the war took a huge toll on the area and its best and brightest young men; 36 died at Shiloh alone.

Makes me wish that the Arkansas oak growing in rememerance of their sacrifice truly does become the rightful national champ.  Even if I still don't believe Q. arkansana is truly a species.

And in case you thought I missed it:  Virgin oak tree?  Does that its acorns immaculate??

Monday, April 4, 2011

It's a bit embarrassing...

... when your entire professional career is devoted to marketing tree tubes for protecting seedling trees, only to realize that after removing the tree tubes in order to photograph 3 English oaks last fall, I forgot to replace them before winter set in... and found out yesterday that over the winter rabbits had chewed two of them off completely and nipped the terminal bud of the third.

Good grief. Thank goodness my customers are a lot smarter than I am.

They should resprout from a lower bud or a "dormant bud" in the bark, or from the roots. 

I am in high level negotiations (with my daughter) to use half of "her" garden space for a mini oak nursery this spring.  Of course I own the garden.  And of course I have no chance of winning those negotiations.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday Afternoon Fun

Northfield MN is the home of the late Senator Paul Wellstone.  The primary vehicles are Suburu Outbacks and Volvos, and their bumper stickers provide a complete history of democratic presidential tickets dating to the late 70's. I have often wondered if these bumper stickers are factory installed to save time.

I was just out running a few errands and was surprised to see the car in front of me at a stop sign had a bumper sticker promoting 

The car was a Prius.

It just struck me funny... but then again I'm a little punchy after a busy week!

Daimyo oak

Every now and then I do a Google search on some anthropomorphic feeling/action + oaks just to see what I come up with.  I've done happy oaks, sad oaks, funny oaks etc.  What I find is often the inspiration for a post.  Some of which actually get written and posted.

Today it was dancing + oaks.  It led directly to, surprisingly enough, Dancing Oaks Nursery in Oregon. What a great name!  They specialize in unique plants from around the world.  What does this mean in terms of oak offerings?

Emperor oak, Q. dentata (aka Daimyo oak) - A medium sized oak with massive leaves that turn russet/orange in fall and are persistent in winter.  Asian.  Awesome.  I'd kill for some acorns (hint, hint).

And a cutleaf version of Emperor oak.  I must grow one someday.  Yes I'm in zone 4.  I take that as a challenge.

Darlington oak?

In a (fairly) recent post I talked about how a tree in Covington Cty, MS had usurped a tree in Howard Cty, AR as the biggest Arkansas oak (Q. arkansana).  I found this somewhat noteworthy/amusing because a) the range of Arkansas oak consists of a few widely scattered dots across the South, and most range maps I have seen don't show any of those dots occurring in Mississippi, and b) I have grave doubts as to whether Arkansas oak is truly a species - even to the very limited extent any oak species can be considered a true species.

As they say in the journalism trade, this story is still developing.  A forester in Howard Cty, AR has very kindly agreed to seek out the tree that held the title of champion until 1997, take photos and collect leave/twig/acorn samples for me.  Another forester friend in MS who believes the Covington Cty tree might be misidentified is looking into this further, and will help compare the samples.

It will be interesting to see how two trees from hundreds of miles apart, both classified by people who - by virtue of the fact that the population is sparse, spotty and by all indications in decline - have seen very few Arkansas oaks, compare.

But none of that is what this post is about. 

I was looking at the registry of Champion Trees of Mississippi  to try to learn more about the who & how of the Covington Cty Arkansas oak nomination when two things caught my eye:

1) The MS state registry includes 24 species of oak.  24!  Here in Minnesota we have 7 species, and that includes those chinkapins no one has seen in more than a century.  Let's call it 6.

2) The MS state registry has a listing for Darlington oak, Q. hemisphaerica.  Darlington oak?  I don't pretend to be an expert on southern oaks, but I had never even heard of Darlington oak.  It's not listed in Oaks of North America, the highly flawed but mostly complete reference I generally turn to.

So I went here to learn more.  I will lift the taxonomy section in whole:


The scientific names of Darlington oak and laurel oak are Quercus hemisphaerica Bartram ex Willd. and Quercus laurifolia Michx. [4,8,40,43,49,50]

The historical nomenclature of these oaks is complicated. In the past, most authorities, including Little [24], treated them as a single species but differed on the appropriate scientific name [43]. More recent authorities [4,8,40,43,49,50] recognize two species, Q. hemisphaerica and Q. laurifolia, based on anatomical differences and vast differences in site preferences. Laurel oak (Q. laurifolia) grows in wetlands. Darlington oak (Q. hemisphaerica) grows in uplands; it has acute leaf tips and flowers 2 weeks later than laurel oak in the same area [8,12,27]. In many cases, the literature treats Darlington and laurel oaks as one species. Information from authors that recognize and discuss Darlington oak and laurel oak as a separate species is included and noted as such.

Darlington and laurel oak are placed within the subgenus Erythrobalanus, or black (red) oak group. Laurel oak is difficult to identify and is often confused with willow oak (Q. phellos) and water oak (Q. nigra) [40]. It
has been suggested that laurel oak is a hybrid between these two species, but that may not be the case because willow oak is absent from southeastern Georgia and peninsular Florida where laurel oak is abundant

Laurel oak hybridizes with the following species [24,27]:
x Q. falcata (southern red oak): Q. X. beaumontiana Sarg.
x Q. incana (bluejack oak): Q. X. atlantica Ashe
x Q. laevis (turkey oak): Q. X. mellichampii Trel.
x Q. marilandica (blackjack oak): Q. X. diversiloba Tharp ex A. Camus

Glad we could straighten that out!  So Darlington oak is a kinda sorta maybe/maybe not species depending on who you talk to and even then bears several Latin binomials.

I am beginning to see why - and feel a lot less jealous about - the Southern states having so many more oaks than we do in Minnesota:  They don't.  They have a few species and just call them each about a dozen different things.  I think it's a plot by Southern foresters to make northern foresters feel stupid (it's working).

When my head was starting to ache I called an oak expert in Mississippi for clarification, which he did in the same way that the Mississippi River becomes clearer as it flows from me to him... which is to say like mud.  But that's good.  The muddiness of oak taxonony is something we both understand, so for me what he had to say made perfect sense.

When I mentioned Darlington oak his response was, "Oh yeah, that's another one of those water oaks."  Another one of those water oaks (Q. nigra)?  How many are there?  Depends on who you talk to.  Water oak, laurel oak, swamp laurel oak, Darlington oak and probably Arkansas oak all fit that category with many overlapping traits - many of which are probably more a reflection of site characteristics than the inherent genetics of the trees themselves.

He then said, as usual, something completely brilliant: Throughout the South there are localized clusters of oaks of a particular species that exhibit a set of variant traits (longer acorns, later/early leaf out or leaf drop, wider or narrow spatulate leaves, etc.).  Taxonomists are keen to either label this localized variant as a distinct variety of a particular species, or even as a separate species in and of itself.  When another taxonomist finds a localized cluster of trees 200 miles away that exhibit the exact same slight variations, they name it something else yet again.  So instead of one species with a wide set of local variations we now have, depending on who you talk to, 3 distinct species, 2 distinct species and 1 variety, 1 distict species and 2 varieties, of any number of hybrids.  Then the taxonomists spend their carrers arguing about it.

That is work I would seriously enjoy.

Here's the truly interesting thing (to me at least):  The MS state champion Darlington oak was nominated by Mr. B. E. Brown - the same guy who nominated the Arkansas oak in Covington County.  Could it be that Mr. Brown is seeing local variants of water oak and classifying them as a more narrowly defined "species?"

Stay tuned.