Field Notes: What’s in the Woods Today? Sept. 5, 2018

by Forester Lisa Deaton


Every August, our agency assists the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries with their Mast Survey.  Mast is not just a word to describe the tall post on ships; it is also a term used to describe the fruit of trees and plants that provide food sources for wildlife. Trees do not bear the same amount of fruit (i.e. nuts) reliably from year to year, so field staff are asked to rate the amount of fruit production on a dozen important mast species throughout the state.

Two weeks ago in York County, we found several species loaded with their fruit.


These (above) are pawpaws, which will turn dark brown when they ripen.  If you happen to find some, the pulp can be eaten raw (watch out for the seeds), or Kentucky State University offers a list of recipes.


The persimmons are still green, and will be ready to eat after a hard freeze when they are orange and sweet.  If you bite into a green one, you are in for a bitter surprise.


The flowering dogwood berries are also still green (above), and were easy to see on this branch because caterpillars had eaten the leaves.


Each brown husk on this American beech (above) holds two beech nuts.


These hickory nuts (above) are already on the ground, but a storm probably blew them out of a tree earlier this summer before they fully ripened.  Whether or not the squirrels will eat them remains to be seen.  Black bears, gray foxes, rabbits, mice, raccoons, quail, turkey, crows, blue jays and other birds also eat hickory nuts.

We are still conducting our surveys, but the mast production on Virginia’s peninsulas looks promising.

You Can Help Ensure Virginia has More Hardwoods!

The Virginia Department of Forestry needs your help to continue producing quality seedlings for Virginia landowners. Virginia-grown seed generally produces trees that will grow well in our state. Every year, homeowners from all over the state donate acorns and other seed to help us produce the next season’s crop. Seed collection is a great activity for children and adults. It’s also a wonderful way to learn more about Virginia trees. Every year, homeowners spend countless hours raking up acorns and wonder what to do with them. We have the answer… donate your acorns to the Virginia Department of Forestry! VDOF needs seeds and acorns from the following trees:

  • Black Oak
  • Black Walnut
  • Chinese Chestnut
  • Chestnut Oak
  • Live Oak
  • Northern Red Oak
  • Pin Oak
  • Sawtooth Oak
  • Southern Red Oak
  • Swamp Chestnut Oak
  • Swamp White Oak
  • White Oak
  • Willow Oak

It is easy to pick up a lot of these seeds during the months of September and October in many yards and parking lots.  When collecting the seeds, please follow these simple guidelines:

  1. Make sure the tree is correctly identified.
  2. Try to keep as much trash out as possible (sticks, leaves, gravel, etc.).
  3. It doesn’t matter if acorns still have the caps on them or not.
  4. Place the seed in a breathable sack or bag (No plastic bags please!).
  5. One type of seed should not be mixed with another (For example: white oak acorns should be in one bag and red oak acorns should be in another).
  6. Make sure the bag of seed is labeled and dated correctly.
  7. Once the seed is collected, place in a cool area (Seed will spoil if it is over heated).
  8. Bring the seed into the the nearest VDOF office no later than October 16.

Find out more and get info to help ID acorns. If you need help identifying a tree, have questions about the process or need directions please contact Joshua at 540-363-7000.