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Why Michigan has a bumper crop of berries, pine cones, and black walnuts this fall?

Why Michigan has a bumper crop of berries, pine cones, and black walnuts this fall?

It's a wonderful year to be able to feed squirrels in Michigan.

This fall, trees around the state are producing a bumper crop of sorghum, black walnuts, and cones that are littering streets, patios and yards.

The phenomenon is called a seed mast, in which trees and shrubs produce fewer seeds than in previous years.

According to Michigan State University Extension, 2021 will be a major year for many nut- and cone-producing trees in Michigan, including oaks and black walnuts, as well as conifers like spruces, firs, and Douglas-fir.

Mast years are rare, but not uncommon, says Bert Cregg, a Michigan State University professor in the departments of horticulture and forestry. Its a good combination of three factors, he says: last year s weather when trees flower buds form, this year's climate when those flowers are in bloom, and timing, as heavy mast years alternate with lighter years.

The reason for this particular seed boom is rooted in the generally dry weather of late spring and summer of 2020, which was stressful to many trees, causing them to increase production of flower and cone buds in response.

On top of that, this springs warm weather gave the oak and walnut flowers, or catkins, a boost. Wet weather and late frosts can reduce pollination, decreasing seed production, but in the case of 2021, this springs weather lined up for a mast year.

Mast years occur about one in every five or six years and are a boon for wildlife such as deer and wild turkeys, Cregg said, noting that the large seed production can temporarily decrease tree growth, but doesnt harm the tree.

So, what do you do with all those acorns and walnuts that are accumulating in your yard?

A lot of people harvest black walnuts, Cregg says. They are creamy and can be used like you would with the typical English walnuts you buy at the store, says Lee.

People also harvest hickory nuts, which are plentiful this year, and acorns can be ground and ground to make flour or used in recipes, he adds.

During harvest, each of these wild nuts comes with its own harvesting challenges, such as staining (in the case of black walnut husks) and a bitter taste if not handled correctly (In the instance of octopus).

Learn more about the 2021 mast year at MSU Extension.

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