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Native Plants Journal 5.2 (2004) 167-170

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Propagation Protocol for bareroot Oaks

Quercus L.

Nursery Superintendent
George O White State Forest Nursery
Missouri Department of Conservation
14027 Shafer Road
Licking, MO 65542
nursery, Fagaceae, acorns, fertilization
USDA NRCS (2004)

Missouri is home to 19 species of oak (Quercus L. [Faga-ceae]). This genera is the most important in terms of wildlife value, forest products, and forest cover in the state. At the George O White State Forest Nursery, located in south central Missouri, we grow 13 of the 19 species—about 1.5 million 1+0 oak seedlings annually.

Click for larger view
Bur oak acorn (Q. macrocarpa Michx.) Photo by Gregory A Hoss

Seed Procurement

Acorns are perishable seeds. For the most part, we try to collect and plant them as soon as they fall from the tree. We have had some success storing "red" oaks for up to 1 y, but for the most part we plant all we collect or purchase each year. This does put us at the mercy of poor seed years, which happens fairly regularly with at least some species.

We obtain our acorns primarily from local purchase right here at our nursery. Our nursery has been operating since the 1930s and each fall we set up a buying station. Generations of local folks have brought us acorns and other seeds collected within about a 80 km (50 mi) radius of the nursery. Each summer we announce the species we desire, our price, and the total amount of seeds we will purchase. We have found that price has little to do with what people bring us. If seeds are available, people will collect and bring them to us. If the crop is poor, no price will get us our seeds. In most years, we are able to obtain all of the white (Quercus alba L.), northern red (Q. rubra L.), black (Q. velutina Lam.), and pin (Q. palustris Muenchh.) oak acorns we need. Acorns are brought to us in buckets, bags, and just loose in car trunks [End Page 167] or pickup truck beds. We weigh the seeds and pay the collector.

We also obtain seeds from 2 other sources: seed contractors and agency buying stations. For some species, such as cherrybark (Q. pagoda Raf.), Nuttall (Q. texana Buckl.), and willow (Q. phellos L.) oak, we buy all of our seeds from contractors—individuals and seed companies that collect and sell seeds for a living. At about 4 or 5 locations around the state, with the assistance of our local forestry offices, we set up buying stations. As is the case at the nursery, ordinary folks bring us seeds—we weigh the quantity and pay them for their service. At our buying stations in north and west Missouri we can usually buy all of the chinkapin (Q. muehlenbergii Engelm.), bur (Q. macrocarpa Michx.), and swamp white (Q. bicolor Willd.) oak acorns needed. We use contractors and local purchases to fill out our needs on other oak species. Usually, our seed goal for an individual species is met with the combined purchases at our nursery, from field stations, and private contractors. Rarely do we get all of our acorns from a single source.

Quality is the biggest difference in the seeds we purchase from local folks as compared to that from seed contractors. Nearly all acorns procured from vendors are ready to plant. Acorns we purchase locally generally need further cleaning to remove caps, sticks, grass clippings, leaves, garbage, and nonviable seeds. We use a Jesse aspirator (Gene M Jessee Inc, Chico, California), which uses suction, vibration, and gravity, to separate viable from nonviable seeds. For us, it does a great job in preparing oaks (and many other species) for planting.

Acorn Handling Prior to Planting

Red Oak Group

Of the red oak group, we grow northern red, black, Nuttall, cherrybark, willow, pin, and Shumard (Q. shumardii Buckl. var. shumardii) oaks. We use the aspirator to clean all of these species. Clean acorns are...


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