Oct 29, 2021 - News
Inside Tennessee's quest for acorns
Tennessee state workers worked with Vanderbilt University to collect acorns in giant nets.
Tennessee state workers collaborated with Vanderbilt University to collect acorns in giant nets. Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt University

Tennessee is turning to Vanderbilt University to boost the state's shrinking stock of white oak trees.

  • Workers with the university and the state Division of Forestry recently rolled out large nets to harvest the trees' precious acorns.

Why it matters: The dwindling population of white oaks is a national problem. In Tennessee, officials are confronting a scarce supply of locally grown acorns, which are more adept at growing and thriving here.

  • "Everybody's having supply chain shortages," Nathan Hoover, who oversees the state's forest management unit, tells Axios. "This is kind of similar to that — we can't find acorns."
  • Hoover said white oaks are a key pillar of the state's forest-based economy, which generates billions of dollars and includes recreation, tourism, hunting and logging.

By the numbers: The state has collected acorns at Vanderbilt for a couple of years, but this year's effort was a larger undertaking.

  • Hoover estimates that the state has already collected 740 pounds of white oak acorns and 375 pounds of bur oak acorns from Vanderbilt.
  • That could lead to about 55,750 seedlings being distributed across Tennessee.

What's next: The acorns will go to the state's East Tennessee nursery, where they will be vetted and planted before being sold or provided to agencies across the state in about a year.

What they're saying: Vanderbilt's landscape architect James Moore says there are about 50 white oaks on campus. The trees on campus are particularly hearty: some of them top 100 feet and are more than a century old.

  • "Those are the kinds of oaks that you want to be collecting and growing across the state," Moore tells Axios.

How to help: The White Oak Initiative in Tennessee — a joint effort of the state, University of Tennessee, Tennessee Forestry Association, and other groups — is collecting white oak acorns through Nov. 15.

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