On a beautiful day, a chilly breeze gives an acorn the final push it needed to fall to ground.
“Stop the cart!” Debbie Fluegel screams.
Her sister slams on the breaks of the golf cart, alarmed that something is wrong. To her sister’s surprise, Debbie runs to a nearby red oak to collect acorns.
This may surprise the passerby, but Trees Forever program manager Debbie Fluegel is very passionate about her work—and not really the biggest fan of golf. She’s there to support her nephew competing in a high school golf competition, but she’s found a way to amuse herself beyond her nephew’s performance.
Fluegel is constantly scouting for new acorns and seeds to add to her educational materials for when she talks with students and landowners.
First, Debbie and her sister stop at a white oak. Then after her nephew plays another hole, the cart stops by a red oak. And eventually, they stop by Debbie’s favorite, a bur oak.
This majestic, large tree is native to Iowa and Illinois and grows on a wide range of sites from stream terraces and floodplains to the driest of uplands. It is the most drought resistant of all the oak species mainly because of its extensive root system.
“It’s my favorite because it has a big furry cap that covers most of the nut, and the nut itself is really big!” Fluegel explains. “The key feature is the cap, which covers two-thirds of the nut. You almost can’t see the nut because so much of it is covered.”
Deer, turkey and other animals rely on these nuts for a tasty meal in the fall, but in the spring, oak trees are very important to pollinators.
“While oaks are not pollinated by insects, the leaves provide one of the first food sources for caterpillars, so they’re very vital to the lifecycle of pollinators,” Debbie adds.
As Debbie rides through the golf course, she notices a lot of mature oak trees, but a lot of the younger trees seem to be maples. While maples are often planted for their fall color, oak trees are beautiful during the autumn as well, with leaves ranging in color from red to golden brown.
By the time Debbie’s nephew finishes his 18th hole, Debbie has six armfuls of nuts, seeds and pines cones.
“From this point forward my family has encouraged me to take zip lock baggies along with me to these various golf matches,” Debbie says with a laugh.