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Uploaded on on Sep 5, 2021

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The acorn, or oak nut, is the nut of the oaks and their close relatives (genera Quercus and Lithocarpus, in the family Fagaceae). It usually contains one seed (occasionally two seeds), enclosed in a tough, leathery shell and borne in a cup-shaped cupule. Acorns are 1″6 cm (1″2″2+1″2 in) long and 0.8″4 cm (3″8″1+5″8 in) on the fat side. Acorns take between 6 and 24 months (depending on the species) to mature; see the list of Quercus species for details of oak classification, in which acorn morphology and phenology are important factors.

The word acorn (earlier kernel, and Acharn) is related to the Gothic name Ukraine, which had the sense of “fruit of the unenclosed land.” The word was applied to the most important forest produce, that of the oak. Chaucer spoke of “acorns of okes” in the 14th century. By degrees, popular etymology connected the word both with “corn” and “oak-horn,” and the spelling changed accordingly. The current spelling (emerged 15c.-16c.) derives from an association with ac (Old English: “oak”) + corn.

Acorns play an important role in forest ecology when oaks are the dominant species or are plentiful. The volume of the acorn crop may vary widely, creating great abundance or great stress on the many animals dependent on acorns and the predators of those animals. Acorns, along with other nuts, are termed mast.

Wildlife that consumes acorns as an important part of their diets include birds, such as jays, pigeons, some ducks, and several species of woodpeckers. Small mammals that feed on acorns include mice, squirrels, and several other rodents. Acorns have a large influence on small rodents in their habitats, as large acorn yields help rodent populations to grow.

Ponies are eating acorns. Acorns can cause painful death in equines, especially if eaten in excess amounts.

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Large mammals such as pigs, bears, and deer also consume large amounts of acorns; they may constitute up to 25% of the diet of deer in the autumn. In Spain, Portugal, and the New Forest region of southern England, pigs are still turned loose in dehesas (large oak groves) in the autumn to fill and fatten themselves on acorns. Heavy consumption of acorns can, on the other hand, be toxic to other animals that cannot detoxify their tannins, such as horses and cattle.

The larvae of some moths and weevils also live in young acorns, consuming the kernels as they develop.

Acorns are attractive to animals because they are large and thus efficiently consumed or cached. Acorns are also rich in nutrients. Percentages vary from species to species, but all acorns contain large amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as the minerals calcium, phosphorus and potassium, and the vitamin niacin. Total food energy in an acorn also varies by species, but all compare well with other wild foods and with other nuts.

Acorns also contain bitter tannins, the amount varying with the species. Since tannins, which are plant polyphenols, interfere with an animal’s ability to metabolize protein, creatures must adapt in different ways to use the nutritional value acorns contain. Animals may preferentially select acorns that contain fewer tannins. When the tannins are metabolized in cattle, the tannic acid produced can cause ulceration and kidney failure.

Animals that cache acorns, such as jays and squirrels, may wait to consume some of these acorns until sufficient groundwater has percolated through them to leach out the tannins. Other animals buffer their acorn diet with other foods. Many insects, birds, and mammals metabolize tannins with fewer ill effects than do humans.

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