No, you’re not nuts.
But odds are, your yard is currently covered with them.
Margaret Cramer, of Galloway Township, can walk across her lawn without touching the ground.
The National Weather Service has issued a freeze warning for the region, including Atlantic,…
Diane Woods, of Mays Landing, used snow shovels to scoop them up, filling two trash cans in the process.
They are acorns. And this year, it’s a bumper crop.
It’s what is called a “mast year” for the tiny nut, as South Jersey oak trees produce an over-abundance of acorns this fall. Bombarded homeowners are trying to keep up, and wondering if the acorn invasion foretells what type of winter may be in store.
“Most years, there are relatively few acorns,” said Marc Abrams, professor of forestry at Penn State University. “But every three to five years, when a mast year occurs, oaks can produce as much as 10 to 20 times the average output of acorns.”
Abrams says oak trees are irregular in their seeding, and remain mysterious in many ways. A mix of both genetic and weather factors determine a mast year, which make them inherently difficult to predict.
Why produce such an abundance every few years? Abrams says it’s to ensure the future of the oak population. Producing an excess ensures that acorns will be left over after animals are done feeding on them.
This autumn’s mast year may be unique, however. Abrams explains that each type of oak tree — such as red, white or scarlet oaks — has independent cycles for acorn production. He speculates that this year, “multiple types of oak trees are all having mast years.” The coinciding mast years increase the acorn surplus exponentially.
Just one large oak tree can produce as many as 10,000 acorns in a mast year.
This year’s warm September has delayed the fall foliage — the color turn is about two weeks behind schedule. Although few leaves have yet to fall, the acorns are keeping homeowners unusually busy.
“We’ve had an unusual number of calls regarding acorns,” said Donna Burger, recycling coordinator for Egg Harbor Township.
Burger says the township has had to refuse collection of some acorn-filled brown bags, which are reserved for leaf collection.
She reminds residents that large piles of acorns should be disposed of with regular trash.
For Kristyn Rommel, of Pine Lake Park, it’s not the pines, but the oaks that have led to a new activity for her children.
“Instead of snowball fights, my kids had acorn wars last weekend,” Rommel explains, even “building forts and all.”
But should snow-loving kids be excited to trade in their acorns for snowballs this winter? Folklore speculates that an acorn abundance in the fall means a long, harsh winter.
But meteorologists and foresters agree that there is no correlation in what type of winter follows a mast year for acorns.
Other ecological consequences do follow, though.
More acorns usually lead to an increase in the populations of squirrels, chipmunks, deer and even mice, all scavengers of this fall’s overly abundant nut.
Abrams explained that “more deer and mice will lead to more ticks, which in turn could lead to an uptick in Lyme disease next spring and summer.”
Until then, the South Jersey forecast calls for scattered showers of acorns and unusually large piles of acorns adorning our streets.
And the chance for some fat, well-fed squirrels next spring.