What Kind of Tree Do Acorns Grow On?


From Gene Logsdon

A teacher friend called recently with a strange message. “I just found out that a lot of people don’t know what tree acorns grow on.”

He (I will call him John because that’s his name) first became aware of this strange phenomenon after another teacher asked him the question. The other teacher didn’t know. John got to wondering. So he asked one of his high school classes to raise hands if they knew where acorns came from. About two thirds did, so John, long experienced with high school students, asked one of them for the whereabouts of acorns. The student, embarrassed, said he didn’t really know. John addressed the class again: “Perhaps you didn’t understand the question,” and then he repeated it. This time, with the threat of being asked hanging over them, only a handful of the students raised their hands.

Perhaps this class was an exception, John thought. He had the opportunity a little later to ask the question of a larger group— about 250 people. Only a handful knew the answer. Asked John of me: “Are we supposed to believe that people are getting a good education?”

The truth is, many of us, perhaps most of us, are illiterate about the world of nature. Our attention in life is focused elsewhere. Perhaps the way to resolve this kind of ignorance is to make up computer games based on natural history. But electronic games might not be the remedy for this kind of illiteracy. The problem is that the knowledge achieved would be almost entirely virtual. You could have a game based on identifying bird species— call it “Guess The Bird” — but the knowledge gained would be like that of many birdwatchers. They can name the bird they see, or even hear, but they don’t know the least little bit about how that bird fits into the ecosystem, which is the most important part of learning about them. For instance, which birds depend on acorns for an important part of their food supply?

There is nothing wrong with not knowing something that ought to be common knowledge. It is only wrong when people don’t know that they don’t know. Everyone today likes to spout off about how we should manage nature but very few of us know enough about the issues (like population carrying capacity, like climate change) to discuss them intelligently. Not knowing where acorns come from is symptomatic of something very perplexing. A culture which is that ignorant is going to be unaware of a great many more facts about nature and that could lead to environmental suicide. A culture that doesn’t know where acorns come from obviously doesn’t know much about trees at all, and so will go heedlessly on destroying forests until it destroys the ecosystems of about half the earth. If you don’t know where acorns come from, you won’t know that acorn flour was once a staple food of native Americans, especially in California, and could be a staple food again. If you don’t know where acorns come from, do you know where oil and coal come from? Do you know where a healthy environment comes from? Do you know, for instance, that a mature shade tree gives off 60 cu. ft. of pure oxygen every day? Do you know where most of the building material for houses comes from? Where good furniture and tool handles come from? Where most fruit and edible nuts come from? Where rubber comes from? Where coconut, varnishes, nutmeg and turpentine come from? Where millions of acres of fertile land came from? Where hundreds of species of wild animals come from, some of which were probably our evolutionary ancestors? Where the life-saving fuel for many millions of people comes from?

Will a society that doesn’t know where acorns come from really know where humans come from?
See also Gene’s The Acorn Tree Syndrome Strikes Again
Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio.
Author: The Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse (Culture of the Land) 2007
Gene’s latest book: The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life
This article first published as a Country Rover newspaper column, online at theprogressortimes.com
Image Credit: Wikipedia Quercus subgenus Cyclobalanopsis
Gene’s Posts

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I was discussing saving seeds from my garden with a friend and told him I was going to save bean seeds. He didn’t know where the seed was in beans. He also insisted that radish seed was inside the radish.

I invited a neighbor to come in the garden and pick some peas. She had no idea where the peas were even though the pods were hanging abundantly from the plants.

It’s not a new problem. Remember the old spaghetti tree April Fool’s news broadcast from the 50’s? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27ugSKW4-QQ

Everyone knows spaghetti doesn’t grow on trees. It grows on the ground along train tracks.

So there is a contrary computer as well as a contrary farmer in Wyandot County!! How strange!

Thanks for your comments Gene and, no I don’t endorse your tongue-cheek comment about it being to your advantage as I suspect you don’t either. I feel we should use whatever media is appropriate and effective to try and pass on these skills and activities. Computers just happen to be the flavour of the decade and I for one certainly hope that books don’t ever go out of fashion. I guess we just keep plugging on and do what we can.

Is there an e-mail site that I can send some pics to you showing a little of what we do in the Antipodes? Just give you some idea of what and how we operate.

Also I have finally managed to get a second-hand copy of some of your earlier books (alcohol, aquaculture, Wyeth, etc)I had not read and they, as usual, are welcomed by my inquisitive mind. Please don’t stop!

Cheers and thanks again. Hope the computers stay awake for you.

John: the computers have been contrary lately and today is the first I saw your comment. I thank you and I wish you well in efforts to bring important lessons to the educational system. I used to complain that the US educational system was not doing its job, but although I probably shouldn’t admit it, its negligence is my gain since those of us who try to fill the void, as you have experienced, sell more books, etc. Gene Logsdon

Hi Gene. If it makes it any easier for you there are the same (where do acorns come from) issues here in NZ and quite frankly, it scares the whatzit out of me as an older, reasonably self-contained man of the land. It has worried me for some time now and rather than sit on the proverbial I have for a few years now worked with our regional Polytechnic here in NZ and we are now running fees-free and very practically based programmes on all aspects of sustainable and self-help land use from poultry raising, growing your own organic vegetables through managing the home orchard to alternative energy systems, bee-keeping and replanting native forests. These programmes are endorsed and funded by our Govt through the tertiary education system. The practical nature means that the sudden realisation that at long last learning can be fun as well as productive is a joy to behold on their faces (ages range from 16 to 85+) and they come back and sign up for the next course. So far we are the only institution to do this in NZ and, funnily enough, we are the only one with a growing hort/ag student roll in the whole country! How very strange!
I hope that this gets to you as I feel it important to understand that this is a global problem and not just USA based and that there are ways and means to counteract this trend.
Thanks for all your pioneering work, books and leadership and all the very best for 2008.

Cheers John

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