Taking Walks & Mossy Cup Oaks

I like folks who take walks. We live in a small enough town where people can get out of doors and walk on sidewalks for exercise and for getting out into nature. A couple of Sundays ago a friend of mine, Mark Dodson, brought an unusual acorn to me to identify. He said he walks by the tree all the time. We’ll get back to the acorn he brought me in a minute, but let’s first consider taking walks.
It use to be that life was slower. Before the advent of the automobile one got to really see things. Now we race by hardly noticing the natural world around us. If we notice nature at all, it is when it gets in our way- when the deer runs out in the road and we brake and dangerously swerve to avoid catastrophe. This is just about as close as we get to nature. I say, slow down get out and take a walk. These last few weeks have been a perfect opportunity to get outside.
The man on foot sees so much more. As he walks down the street, each house and its landscape can be slowly taken in. Trees that interest him can be studied, week after week if he walks certain areas with any regularity. He can watch the trees progress throughout the year from spring, summer, autumn and winter. Each season the tree takes on a new aspect. Shapes are discerned- texture of foliage, bloom and fruiting patterns. These are the things a man on foot can take in.
For a person driving along in an automobile to take notice of a landscape, that landscape has to be especially showy. I’m of the opinion that modern gardeners do most of their landscaping with the automobile in mind. Can it be seen and will it be noticed from 20 yards away in a car traveling a minimum of 30 miles an hour? (This sounds like one of those hated math problems, doesn’t it.) So, why don’t we just ignore the car and its passenger and think about the man on foot? Landscape with a view to the details. I say, put something interesting in your landscape that might only be noticed by the neighbor walking his dog. Plant a shrub or two a bit out of the ordinary that a visitor to your property might take note. I know people who have gardens that always have something interesting growing in them.
This brings me back to the acorn Mark brought to me a few weeks ago. He thought it might be a foreign introduction; the acorns were so unusual. The acorn itself was relatively inconspicuous but it was the cup that caught his eye. It looked like a little bird nest with a fringe around its edge; thus, one of this oak’s common names- Mossy Cup oak. Now, I suppose some folks when they see the acorns of this tree come at it a bit differently. They interpret the frilly edge of the acorn’s cup as if they were spines; thus it’s other name, the Bur oak.
One way or another the oak (Quercus macrocarpa) is a fine native American oak. It reaches a height to up to 80 feet. With leaves that are dark green and shiny above and grey/green underneath. The bark of the tree is deeply furrowed and attractive. The tree, itself, is found all the way from Canada to here in East Texas. In this part of the country, it often seen growing wild in areas bordering grassy lands. But surprisingly, it used to be planted as an ornamental in town landscapes. But not so today. Nurserymen offer a very limited palate of shade trees. A nurseryman that has, say, 10 different varieties of oaks is very rare indeed, and I bet the Mossy Cup is not one of them. No, if you want to see the Mossy Cup, you will have to take a walk and find it in the wild. You might even collect a few acorns, grow them in pots, give them to neighbors, and spread a few trees around town. Who knows, twenty years from now the trees may have matured, and some passer-by on foot will take note and find the acorns interesting, Even take a few home to the family and say, “Look what I found on my walk.”

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