Concept

Acorn

Summary
The acorn, or oaknut, is the nut of the oaks and their close relatives (genera Quercus and Lithocarpus, in the family Fagaceae). It usually contains one seed (occasionally two seeds), enclosed in a tough, leathery shell, and borne in a cup-shaped cupule. Acorns are long and on the fat side. Acorns take between 5 and 24 months (depending on the species) to mature; see the list of Quercus species for details of oak classification, in which acorn morphology and phenology are important factors. The word acorn (earlier akerne, and acharn) is related to the Gothic name akran, which had the sense of "fruit of the unenclosed land". The word was applied to the most important forest produce, that of the oak. Chaucer spoke of "achornes of okes" in the 14th century. By degrees, popular etymology connected the word both with "corn" and "oak-horn", and the spelling changed accordingly. The current spelling (emerged 15c.-16c.), derives from association with ac (Old English: "oak") + corn. Acorns play an important role in forest ecology when oaks are the dominant species or are plentiful. The volume of the acorn crop may vary widely, creating great abundance or great stress on the many animals dependent on acorns and the predators of those animals. Acorns, along with other nuts, are termed mast. Wildlife that consume acorns as an important part of their diets include birds, such as jays, pigeons, some ducks, and several species of woodpeckers. Small mammals that feed on acorns include mice, squirrels and several other rodents. Acorns have a large influence on small rodents in their habitats, as large acorn yields help rodent populations to grow. Large mammals such as pigs, bears, and deer also consume large amounts of acorns; they may constitute up to 25% of the diet of deer in the autumn. In Spain, Portugal and the New Forest region of southern England, pigs are still turned loose in dehesas (large oak groves) in the autumn, to fill and fatten themselves on acorns.
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