1 Have you ever wondered how a big tree started its life? The trees growing in your neighborhood were most likely planted there years ago as young trees, after getting their start in a tree nursery. A tree nursery is a garden where little trees are started from seeds or cuttings and protected in their early growth until they can be replanted. Many more trees grow in the country and forests that were not planted by men. They were planted in a natural and random way.

2 Each year a large oak tree will make hundreds of seeds called acorns that have the potential of becoming oak trees themselves.

3 Every autumn the oak tree’s leaves turn red and brown and fall to the ground. And with them fall the acorns. It is good that each tree produces many seeds, because most acorns will never have a chance to grow.

4 After the acorns fall, many are eaten by insects and rodents. Acorns are one of the squirrels’ favorite storage foods. They bury them in the ground to save for the long winter, without realizing they are also planting seeds. Some will sprout the following spring!

5 Autumn turns into winter, and the forest ground is covered with a blanket of white. The heavy snow becomes deeper, compacting moist brown leaves on top of the acorns.

6 With the approach of spring and warmer days, the snow begins to melt. Sometimes the swiftly moving water from melting snow washes dirt over the acorns and moves them to other places where they have a chance to sprout.

7 Weeks of warm sunshine and spring rains cause the acorn to swell, breaking the hard protective outer shell. Soon the tree embryo pushes through the soil to the surface. The miniature oak leaves unfold above last autumn’s dead oak leaves. These new little leaves are still being nourished from the seed’s stored food.

8 Two weeks later, the tiny oak tree’s leaves have grown and turned a rich green, making food for the small tree by a process of absorbing air and sunlight through the leaves. They also absorb water and minerals through the tree’s roots. This process is called photosynthesis. Where there were once three leaves, the tree now has only two. One leaf was probably eaten off by an insect. If other creatures in the forest do not harm the tree, in a century it will become a full-grown oak tree!