Too Much of a Good Thing

Northern Red Oak Acorns

I may have mentioned in a previous post that our house nestles beneath a sizable Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra). It’s between 90 and 100 feet tall now, I think. Here’s the trunk, which our house surrounds on two sides.

Northern Red Oak Trunk

And here’s the top of it, well most of the top of it:

Northern Red Oak Tree Top

Did you notice the pile of greenery to the left of the trunk in the second photo? That’s part of a massive tree limb that thunderstorm winds ripped off this tree a couple of days ago. We were very fortunate that the winds placed the limb just beside the trunk, rather than on our rooftop or deck. Here’s what the broken end of the limb looks like:

Broken limb of Northern Red Oak

And here’s the stub left behind when the limb was ripped from my beautiful tree:

Limb stub of Northern Red Oak

As you might imagine, Wonder Spouse and I were concerned when what seemed to be a very healthy tree limb almost fell on top of us. So we called our friendly neighborhood arborist, whom we’ve been working with ever since we moved to our five-acre patch over two decades ago. Derek looked carefully at the broken limb and agreed that it had been healthy. However, when he noticed the enormous quantity of very large acorns dangling from every branch, he had an explanation for this thankfully minor disaster.

Derek explained that during heavy nut-producing years for oaks, hickories, and pecans, he often sees trees suffering limb breakage — sometimes significant limb breakage. In fact, he gets calls from folks who ask his crew to come remove the nuts from the trees before too many branches break from the extra weight of all those healthy fruits.

I had no idea. You’d think a nut tree would be adapted to handle the load of a good fruit crop. But growing conditions vary — as do weather patterns — and some years produce conditions conducive to significant breakage of very large, healthy tree limbs.

Given that Hurricane Irene is barreling straight for my state as I type this, I asked Derek if I needed to worry about the Northern Red Oak that looms over my house. He studied it carefully — he’s been pruning and inspecting the tree off and on for twenty years — and he pronounced it sound. Then he conceded that there’s no guarantee that hurricane winds won’t fell even the healthiest tree under the right circumstances. Way to help me relax, Derek.

I’m thinking our best hope to prevent further damage is the bumper crop of squirrels we seem to have this year. Here’s hoping they get very busy very fast, and relocate those hefty acorns from the tree to winter storage areas ASAP.

And let’s also hope that Hurricane Irene will continue her eastward-trending predicted path, sparing the North Carolina Piedmont where I live from her brutal winds.

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