The gall of that oak tree!


I have something almost scientific and accurate to share with you. I’m 92.5% certain that the above looking ball is an oak or apple gall. And if that’s the case, it was formed by a gall wasp.

But that’s skipping ahead of the story. It all started the other night when Barry recruited our son to help trim some oak branches which were growing perilously toward the electrical wires. (He was planning to recruit me, a fact I was lamenting for several weeks.) It involved propping a ladder in the Studebaker truck and hand-cutting some oak branches. He insisted it wasn’t dangerous. Since he’s a rather cautious fellow, he was probably right. Nonetheless, I really didn’t want to be part of this particular adventure.

Hmmm, the photo makes it look more dangerous than it is. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been included in this little gall-filled discussion.

Anyway, in less than ten minutes the chore was done. The offending branches fell to the ground. The crew leaned close to look at the acorns and (I’m sure) gasped. What were those strange green balls? What were they doing on our oak tree?

We all pondered, but couldn’t come up with a plausible explanation. Someone opened up the ball to examine the innards. Even more interesting, wouldn’t you say?

Today I thought to google the key words “green balls on oak trees”. One of the interesting features of WordPress is the capacity to tell you what people searched to find your blog. You learn that people type in all sorts of strange words. Today people found my blog by typing in “I have caterpillars in my birch tree” and “sand movement on Lake Superior” and “wrought iron moose bear driveway gate”. It always somewhat amuses me to think that anyone is searching for anything scientific in this blog. The last search sounds more like the stories you’ll find here.

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Anyway! This Internet world is amazing. At your fingertips you can discover what the heck those green balls are in your oak trees. Here is one credible explanation offered by someone in a group forum:

Q: My Oak tree has large green balls hanging from the branches. I have seen these before, but never to this extent. How can I get rid of these?

A: The round growths you see on your oak are apple galls, which is another name for cynipid wasp nurseries. These growths are part of a fascinating arrangement between insects and oaks. The tiny wasps lay eggs on oaks, stimulating the plant tissue to grow at a rapid rate. The eggs become encapsulated, and the ensuing gall providing food and shelter for the emerging larvae. Different kinds of cynipids wasps will lay their eggs on bark, leaves, branches root, leaves and acorns, each one causing a different kind of gall to form in a very specific location and at a specific time. They range from the tiny jumping gall, to the large apple gall, and from white to red to brown to green. These galls for the most part do not harm the plant, although one leaf gall will cause leaves to turn brown and fall of. The trees are not harmed in the process, and as the wasps are so tiny with such complex lifecycles, preventing their appearance is not practical or possible. You can knock them off of the tree if they really bother you, but know that they will be back next year. If you would like to see the wasps, collect the galls in the late summer/fall and place them in sealed bags. The wasps will emerge in the early spring.

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If you don’t believe all the facts in the preceding paragraph please click on this Wikipedia link to learn more about the gall wasp and its oak balls. Fascinating reading. (Just kidding! I just skimmed to see whether it looked plausible.)

Finally, today’s outdoor activities: coffee/tea on the deck before 8 a.m., a little gardening in the afternoon and wood splitting in the evening. Day 189 checked off!

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>