The First Seed You Planted: A Special Oak Tree


On the mountain in France, a million acorns fall from every oak tree, layering the ground below. Some sprout. Others provide food for the wild ponies and squirrels. Soon after I went there to live, I was looking for wild mushrooms and befriended an acorn that had turned red. Today that acorn is a mighty oak tree. 

One Small Acorn Among Many

The little red acorn, we used to call it. One acorn on a hillside punctuated by acorns. We were scouting around the oak trees in October, looking for wild mushrooms called cepes that raise their noble heads near oak roots, living in some curious and not-fully-understood symbiosis with them. Every time I stepped, there was a crunch of acorns cracking. Then I spotted it, the little red acorn.

Native Oaks

The oaks were not red oaks (Quercus rubra), called American oaks by the French and native to North America. They were either pedunculate oak (Quercus robur) or its close relative, the sessile oak (Quercus petraea). Their acorns were a rich mahogany brown and many of them sprouted and grew the following spring into tiny forests of oak sprouts, too close to the parent tree to ever stand a chance of developing into a tall oak tree. 

This acorn though, was smaller, and it was red. I picked it out of the carpet of acorns covering the hillside, tucked it in my mushroom bag, and kept on seeking cepes. That night, as I unloaded the mushrooms we had found, I came across the little acorn, small and a deep shade of red brown. On a sudden whim, I tucked it into a pot of dirt outside the house, big end down, tip up, and wished it luck.

A Lucky Acorn

Luck, the acorn seemed to have. The first time I checked it (a week later) it had a sprout, a few inches tall, with two leaves and a taproot sinking into the ground of the pot. I worried that I may have underestimated the acorn’s speed of development and moved it into the ground in the flower garden. I checked it regularly and watched the little sprout grow. 

Winter came when all leaves fell. Then, in spring, my little red acorn started growing again. A neighbor told me it was an American oak and asked if I’d brought it from California. To this day, it is a mystery how the red oak acorn came to appear on my land. 

Many more have followed, since the little red acorn grew into a tall oak– right there in my flower garden. Now, 15 years later, it is producing many acorns itself. Curiously, none of the red oak acorns are red. I think my acorn turned red to be noticed, carried away, and planted where it could grow into a mighty oak. 


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