Metro-East Living

Tree’s small acorns are a hit with wildlife

An example of sawtooth oak leaves
An example of sawtooth oak leaves

Q: I found a tree growing in a park in Southern Illinois that I cannot identify. I have searched three books — “Forest Trees of Illinois,” “Trees of Missouri” and the “Manual of the Trees of North America” by (Charles) Sargent, but have not found it listed in any of these publications. I think it is some kind of oak tree. I have included a sample of a terminal branch. Can you help?

J. L. of Coulterville

A: You are correct that it is an oak (Quercus acutissima), known commonly as the Sawtooth Oak. This tree is not native to the United States but to the Himalayan region of the world, to east Asia and, in particular, to Japan and Korea. It was widely planted in the eastern United States as an ornamental tree, especially in parks. It has become naturalized in some areas. Lately, it is receiving a lot of interest because of its smaller acorns that are easier for turkeys and other wildlife to eat.

When I first examined the leaves on the stem, I thought you had found a surviving chestnut tree (Castanea dentata) because the leaves have regular toothed edges — what a find that would be. But your specimen also had single small bristles or short hairs emerging from the ends of these teeth along the edges of the leaves. Some turkey hunters have developed a variety known as “Gobbler” to attract wild turkeys. It also has formed hybrids with the Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris), which has a yellow-brown leaf in fall.

You can order small seedlings on the internet by typing in “sawtooth oak seedlings.”

Q: I was given a big cactus. It’s a couple of feet tall and so wide I can’t put my arms around it. I’m not sure what kind it is, but it bloomed around Christmas with more than a hundred pink blossoms. Now, it just keeps wilting, and the limbs are falling off. It doesn’t make a difference if I water it a little or a lot. I have it in front of a window that gets the most sun in the afternoon. Any suggestions?

S.C. of Highland

A: As the day length becomes shorter, stop watering the cactus entirely — no water at all until next spring. Do not fertilize it either during this time. Your cactus may start to shrivel up, but do not worry because they require no water during this time. Then, when the day length increases in late spring, you can begin watering again.

It will not require a large amount of water. With the size of the cactus that you described, it may only take about one cup of water per week.

Use room temperature water by letting the water sit in a bowl overnight. Too much water will begin rotting the roots of your cactus.

Right now, wrap your cactus with newspaper and then try to lift it out of the container to inspect the condition of the roots. If they are wet, foul smelling and the soil is quite wet, then you will need to re-pot it. Remove all the soil in the container.

If repotting is required, then use one part potting soil, with two parts sand for drainage, and one part inert rock (not limestone because this would change the pH). Turn your cactus plant in front of the window one-fourth turn per week.

When growing cacti, remember to water only once a week in spring and summer and no water in fall and winter. Usually, the cactus requires lower temperatures during the winter and then as spring starts, slowly raise the air temperature.

Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Maureen Houston, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to mhouston@bnd.com.

Do this now:

Keep cutting the grass as long as it is growing.

Once a frost occurs and the leaves change color and dry up, it is safe to plant new shrubs and trees.

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