At the time Superstorm Sandy was threatening the eastern seaboard, my wife Mary Alice and I were visiting our son and daughter in-law at Rehoboth Beach. We visited them on the same weekend last year (Halloween) when the area was hit by a nor'easter, with high winds and snow covering the east coast.
On this visit to Rehoboth Beach, I found another tree I could not identify. It had the leaves and burs of a chestnut tree; however, the fruit, or nut, appeared as an acorn.
There I was, standing in the parking lot as heavy rain fell and high winds snapped branches off all around me, collecting burs and leaves and taking pictures of the tree and its bark.
Back home I looked through "The Book of Trees," by William Carey Grimm, but was not able to identify the tree. The closest description I came to was that of the chinquapin chestnut; however, the leaves and burs did not match.
To confuse me even more, I read about the chinquapin oak tree, which also is known as the chestnut oak.
After having no luck in identifying the tree, I emailed my friend, Jim Lacek, a retired forester. As usual, Jim came to my aid, reporting that the tree was a sawtooth oak.
For many years, I ordered trees for landowners who were signed up for the state Game Commission's Safety Zone and Farm Game programs, and the sawtooth oak appeared on the list of trees to order. I should have been able to identify the tree; however, in my defense, the trees were seedlings that had not as yet leafed out.
Many seedlings given out by the commission are oak trees because acorns are the most important food item in the wild.
According to a USDA Soil Conservation pamphlet, almost 70 species of oaks are native to the U.S. and at least that many are oak hybrids.
Since it takes most oaks more than 20 years to begin producing acorns, most of us are far too impatient to wait that long; however, the sawtooth oak produces acorns at an earlier age.
Under nursery conditions the sawtooth oak can produce acorns in five to eight years. Under field conditions the time length is more likely 10 years. Also the sawtooth oak is a consistent acorn producer, with a good crop every year.
The sawtooth oak, which is a native of China, Japan and Korea, was introduced to the U.S. in 1962. It is a member of the white oak group, with the name sawtooth coming from the wavy tooth-like margin of the leaves. The leaves are quite similar to American chestnut leaves, which caused my confusion.
In 1967, a selective breeding program with the sawtooth oak began. It was in conjunction with the University of Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station, the Kentucky Division of Forestry and the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
In 1986, they released a new variety called gobbler sawtooth oak, with the primary difference the size of the acorns. The smaller acorn of the gobbler sawtooth oak is most desirable as a food source for wild turkeys, making it the first choice tree to plant for the wild turkey population by wild game enthusiasts. It is a faster growing oak and will begin to provide acorns in four to six years.
All of this looks good on paper but in checking the Internet, I have noticed that nurseries are receiving complaints from those who have planted both the sawtooth and gobbler sawtooth trees, which have not produced acorns. Most of these were planted in northern states.
In Rehoboth Beach, the three trees that I now know as sawtooth oak were about the same size; however, only one tree had produced a good amount of acorns. The other two trees only had a few scattered on the ground.
Jim Lacek also wrote that at one time three sawtooth oaks had been growing near the Claverack Pond, on Route 6, just east of Wysox. The acorns of these trees were very large and appeared to be large apple trees growing in the open. Years ago, he had taken acorns from these trees and planted them near the Stoll Building in Wysox and they appear to have grown.
Several weeks ago, I wrote about the persimmon tree and, recently, I was able to take pictures of the persimmon fruit and also taste the fruit, which was very sweet. I now know why a raccoon hunt will most always end up at a persimmon tree.
Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.