New Forests

, Volume 49, Issue 4, pp 571–583 | Cite as

Effects of acorn size and mass on seedling quality of northern red oak (Quercus rubra)

  • Stacy L. Clark
  • Scott E. Schlarbaum


Oaks are not sustainable in many upland temperate forests because of poor recruitment resulting from natural regeneration. Artificial regeneration is an alternative to natural regeneration, but is difficult, in part, due to large variation in seedling quality. In this study, we examined the effects of acorn size and mass on nursery seedling morphological parameters commonly used to quantify seedling quality, and we determined if genetic factors affected these relationships. Acorns were collected from six open-pollinated orchard trees (i.e., six half-sib families), and were separated into six size classes based on acorn diameter (ranging from 1.3 to 2.5 cm). Samples from each size class were weighed for total fresh mass. Acorns were sown in a commercial bareroot nursery in Polk County, Tennessee, USA, and seedlings were grown for 1 year using nursery protocols to maximize growth. Seedling survival was generally not affected by acorn size class or mass, except one family had higher survival in the larger acorn size classes. Five of the six families had no discernable relationship between acorn size class and seedling size. Acorn mass was positively related to seedling morphology, but relationships were weak (R2 ≤ 0.11) and biologically insignificant. Neither acorn size nor mass could be used reliably to predict seedling survival or morphological indicators of seedling quality. We hypothesized that results were affected by an unusually long growing season and advanced fertilization regimes at the nursery, which may have negated acorn size/mass effects on seedling growth. Family affected relationships between acorn size/mass and seedling morphology, indicating that family selections could improve overall seedling quality.


Artificial regeneration Half-sib family Seedling morphology Bareroot seedling production 



This work was supported by the University of Tennessee, Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station and by the United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station, cooperative agreement (12-CA-11330134-025) and cost-reimbursable agreement (10-CR-11330134-023). The authors would like to thank the Tennessee Division of Forestry, East Tennessee State Nursery personnel for their assistance with this study, particularly John Conn. Personnel with the Department of Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries at the University of Tennessee provided invaluable assistance in data collection and field support, including David Griffin, Jason Hogan, John Johnson, and Ami Sharp. David Buckley, Department of Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries at the University of Tennessee, and Dan Dey, Northern Research Station, USDA Forest Service provided early reviews of this manuscript. We would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers and the Associate Editor.


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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. government work and its text is not subject to copyright protection in the United States; however, its text may be subject to foreign copyright protection 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.USDA Forest Service, Southern Research StationKnoxvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Forestry, Wildlife, and FisheriesThe University of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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