One of my kids’ favorite end of summer and fall nature activities is collecting fallen acorns. As the kids are having fun, I find it’s a great time to teach about the oak tree life cycle.
Oak Tree Life Cycle Lesson
Just like all living things, oak trees have a life cycle. In past lessons, we have looked at the general life cycle of plants. Today, let’s look specifically at oak trees.
Sometimes it’s hard for kids (and adults) to imagine that the mighty oak that towers over head started out as a tiny acorn. But, it did. Just like other plants, trees get their starts as seeds. The seed of the oak tree is the acorn and that’s where the oak tree life cycle begins.
Like all seeds, the acorn is grown by a mature plant and contains all the material necessary for a new plant to form. Inside the acorn, you will find a tiny embryonic tree along with tissue loaded with protein, carbohydrates and fat. It is the nutrient dense tissue that makes a great meal for other animals. This is why you see squirrels burying acorns in the fall. They are storing up food for the winter. Sometimes these buried acorns don’t get found again and will grow into trees!
When the acorn falls from a tree, it gets covered in fallen leaves. Next, the tree embryo inside the acorn uses the energy from the nutrients within the acorn, water from the environment, and warmth from the sun to break through the acorn and send a taproot down into the soil. This is called germination. This root gives the young tree an anchor the young tree in place and to obtains water and nutrients from the soil.
Some acorns germinate in the fall, while others wait for spring. Fall sprouting is normal for the white oak acorns. They start to root into the ground as soon as they fall from the tree. Then, in the spring they send up their leaf shoot. The red oak acorns wait until spring to sprout, because they need the winter cold to prepare the seed.
After germination, an oak tree sprout emerges from the acorn and shoots above the soil. The sprout uses more of the nutrients from the acorn to grow until its leaves grow and the tree can start producing it’s own food through photosynthesis.
As the sprout grows, it develops stems and more leaves. The leaves use energy from the sun and the water and nutrients collected by the roots to make food for the tree. Young oak trees that are growing larger, but not yet producing acorns, are called saplings. The length of time a tree is a sapling varies depending upon the species, but the average oak tree species is 20-30 years old before it begins producing acorns.
When an oak tree starts producing acorns, we say it is a mature tree. Depending upon the species, oak trees can live from 80 to over 1000 years. When an oak tree does die, it starts to decompose and becomes a tree stump.
Tree stumps themselves are lifeless, but are actually teeming with life within. Bacteria, fungi, and insects are hard at work inside the tree stump in the process of decomposition. Decomposition breaks down the tree so that it’s nutrients can be added back to the soil so that other trees can grow.
Oak Tree Life Cycle Memory Game
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More Oak Tree Lesson Resources