Head down, I strolled beneath the centenarian-plus bur oaks reside along the city streets elders of my hometown North Branch. My intention on this lovely evening was to collect bur oak seeds (acorns) from what I call the “North Branch heritage trees.” I was  searching for only the most robust and unscathed acorns from bur oaks that had a girth well beyond my own. These elder trees were part of the now extremely rare oak savanna that was growing here before North Branch was incorporated in 1881.

These trees are loyal providers of shade, beauty and sustenance, but they will die. I fear that future city decision-makers will remain blind to honoring the tree that set roots here first.

The most rotund acorns were from the bur oaks found on the block where I lived until third grade. These were easy to pick since they had fallen on the asphalt of the Methodist church parking lot. Some of them had settled in cracks where they sat like a perfect row of tomatoes in the grocery produce section. I wondered if these especially healthy looking acorns were more blessed by growing where they can hear the tunes of hymns sprinkled with prayers?

In his most informative book, Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota, Welby Smith writes, “Bur oak is the most common and ubiquitous oak in Minnesota.” It has me wondering why the red pine (Pinus resinosa) was selected as the state tree. Don’t get me wrong, red pine are lovely and I have just built a log cabin whose walls are red pine, but I would vote for a long-lived tree that wears the title “most ubiquitous oak.”

These oaks are the easiest of oaks to identify with the broad upper leaf with deep cut lobes. The acorns are capped with a bur of fringes unlike any other acorn.

I am puzzled why a spruce tree imprint was used on the North Branch freeway overpass. The spruce is a fine tree in a boreal setting, but in these parts it is entirely introduced rather than native.  The ground of east-central Minnesota is genius at growing oaks.

Sadly, homeowners rarely plant bur oaks in their yards. Instead, following our human nature of being sorely impatient, they lean towards a faster growing tree that will more quickly give them shade.

I argue that planting a bur oak, with its adaptations to cope with drought would be a smarter choice given the direction the climate is going. Besides, the bur oak is sturdier than most and can better withstand severe storms to assure future generations of dependable shade. 

I took my small bag of acorns home and tried three methods to keep the lineage of North Branch heritage oaks going. I strolled out in our 3-acre prairie and cast small handfuls into the native grasses and forbs.  I suspect that many of these broadcast acorns will be prized by foraging rodents.

With a lesser number of acorns, particularly the rotund Methodist ones, I stabbed a trowel two inches into the ground, tucked in an acorn, and pinched the soil back together to cover the seed.

I  planted other acorns in pots to bring indoors sometime in November, to plant out next spring.

I dispersed over 80 acorns, but if I get half a dozen oak seedlings to emerge next spring, I will be quite happy.

For the moment the simple act of planting was enough. I find great contentment in knowing that perhaps one of these acorns will stand strong in another 200 years.