Moving a huge bur oak and how blue jays propagate oaks

Blue Jay with acorn

I thought people at universities were supposed to be smart.

Many people who read this article about the University of Michigan’s plan to move a huge bur oak 600 feet will say,  “Wow, these smart people care about trees.”

I am less generous. I say, “How smart is it to spend $400,000 to do something that doesn’t have to be done?”

Why not design the new building so it doesn’t interfere with the tree? Is mental space so scarce at the university that nobody can design a building with a smaller footprint, and get the space they need by making it higher? Height and a good furnace make sense in a cold climate.

Day after day, I see examples of people exerting power over other living things.

Humans seem to believe that trees and animals must adapt to our presence. We aren’t interested in adapting to theirs. But not all species are power hungry. I found it exciting to learn recently how blue jays have adapted, over centuries, to coexist with oak trees.

Blue jays love to eat and store acorns. They compete with squirrels and have adapted to become more like rats with fluffy tails. How? A blue jay’s esophagus expands so it can hold up to five acorns at a time. The birds bury acorns and retrieve them later, just like squirrels.

In his book Oak: the Frame of Civilization, William Bryant Logan suggests that blue jay behaviour and their love of acorns helped the oak species extend its range across all temperate regions of the planet.

Unlike squirrels, who bury acorns only within about 250 meters of a tree’s trunk, blue jays fly up to two kilometers away with their booty. And, the author says, blue jays remember (better than squirrels) where they bury acorns. Of course, the oak counts on at least some blue jays being forgetful, otherwise its seeds will not sprout into saplings.

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