An Oak Tree’s Life: Part Two, The Seedling
By Blake Hamilton
The fall to the forest floor was easy, but avoiding a hundred different acorn consuming critters was not. Determination and destiny have set the roots for the arduous acorn. The “still at risk” acorn has taken its next step in becoming an oak like the mighty tree it was birthed from. Its path throughout the next journey is not easy, but the already prepared survival skills will help it through its next stage; the seedling/sapling stage.
A seedling depends on three key elements for growth and survival which are: sunlight, moisture, and nutrients. Sunlight is a must in order for photosynthesis to occur. This process generates sugars and starches which are needed for growth. The seedling depends on light every day. The moisture and nutrients gathered are dependent on the roots. The more roots a seedling has, the more moisture and nutrients it can absorb. A strong root system will also help anchor and protect the seedling from high winds and erosion and if it is damaged will help it to re-sprout. All of the variables are an important part of the equation to encourage long-term success. At this point only one thing is certain, the seedlings permanent home.
Smooth sailing is not something offered to the seedling. The same factors posing a threat to the acorn are also dangers to the seedling like drought, wildfire, competing vegetation and other seedlings, disease, pests, flooding, and wildlife consumption such as rodents, beavers, and deer. A seedling can consist of 12% protein, making it very valuable source of nutrition for wildlife. The seedling has to do a good job at being vigorous during these tough conditions. If the seedlings have been established in an area of high wildlife density and food availability is scarce, then the odds for them being consumed go up significantly. The genetics and health of the parent tree can provide enough vigor to help get the seedling through these tough conditions. Hybrid oaks (a cross between two or more parent trees) can pose “hybrid vigor” because of desirable characteristics inherited by one of the parents. Hybrid vigor allows it to better compete in a wide range of conditions and carry its strength throughout its entire lifecycle.
Understanding the limiting factors and struggles of a tree’s life cycle can help you become a better land manager on your property. Ensuring adequate sunlight through TSI (timber stand improvement) operations and proper site selection when planting can contribute to long-term success. Understanding your soils and providing the essential amendments can also help tremendously. When planting seedlings, remember root systems are vital to success. A seedling with numerous roots has more roots per surface area, allowing the seedling to absorb more moisture and nutrients; directly contributing to survival and success. The most important factor to incorporate when planting seedlings is matching each species to the appropriate site.
Mossy Oak Nativ Nurseries has developed a system known as the rapid mast system. This system begins with hand selecting individuals with superior genetics. The seeds from these selections are hand planted in air pruning containers that stimulate hundreds of feeder roots. The final step involves guidance in which species to plant, and tips for quick establishment and long-term survival. Through the understanding of a trees life cycle needs, the rapid mast process can help trees produce acorns at a much earlier age. Tree tubes can help with moisture and sunlight availability as well as provide competition control. It’s amazing how a seedling can survive with so many limiting factors. By understanding their strengths/weaknesses, you can assure more seedlings will become the mature specimens they set out to be.