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Q:

What is the brown stuff called that falls off oak trees every spring?

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I call it the tree’s beard. A. Those “beards,” believe it or not, are flowers. Not the showy, colorful sweetly scented blossoms you’d expect from a plant or a tree, but flowers nonetheless. There are dozens of species of oaks (Quercus) in existence. When they reach 20 years or older, many begin producing fruit or acorns, which contain seeds. The flowers, or catkins, appear every spring. Single trees produce both male and female flowers. The dangling brownish-yellow “beards” you describe are clusters of male flowers. When the males release pollen, their job is done. Q. I have a beautiful fragrant purple Syringa lilac shrub in bloom. For the first time this year, three stems contain a white lilac bloom. How did this happen? How can I keep the white blooms from appearing in the future? A. It sounds like your lilac reverted. Genetic mutations occur in the plant world. When that happens, sometimes horticulturists graft a piece of the oddity onto an existing plant that doesn’t have the ... more
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