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Mystery Tree in my Backyard

June 28, 2013

I finally figured out the identity of the green blog ball thing that I find on the ground every spring during my hikes in the woods.

Last week I found a brown dried-out ball still attached to a branch so there could no longer be a doubt which tree the balls fall from. Normally I find the brown balls empty inside. Below you will see a larger one that I found with a spongy interior. That was a new find for me and it helped to finalize my identification of my mystery tree ball. I also brought home a sample acorn from the area where the brown sacs fall hoping it might narrow down the choices.. that is if I could figure out what oak tree these things were hanging from.

Answer: A WASP GALL. Wasps and flies are responsible for the formation of galls on oak trees. The galls, which are abnormal swollen growths, form when an insect releases chemicals that react with plant hormones to cause the tree to form the gall. Galls protect the larvae of the insect that make them, and contain a protein-rich food that the larvae feed on while maturing.

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I found a description of these dried up balls in their green state which turns out to be their spring form. For the number of trees surrounding me when I find these balls, the scarcity of the balls always seemed odd to me. That is because they are not a seed,  flower, acorn or any other live part of a tree.

Wasp gall from last Fall. Found on oak trees.

Wasp gall from last Fall. Found on oak trees.

Red Oak wasp gall

Red Oak wasp gall


Here is an acorn I found near the trees. Look closely and you can see the new acorns forming.

Here is an acorn I found near the trees. Look closely and you can see the new acorns forming.

Are these galls on Northern Red Oaks or Scarlet Oaks? My guess is the Scarlet Oak because the acorn is shaped more like the one found in this comparison of oak acorns and leaves. I always thought oak trees turned yellow or gold in the Fall. Apparently both these oaks turn red.. thus the general classification as Red Oaks.

Mystery solved. Now I won’t have to keep dragging them home and taking photos. That will leave more room in my pockets and pack for all my other finds.

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