After I retired my wife, our older daughter and I purchased a home in the country, 42 acres with a house and a barn, a large yard, two fenced pastured, a hay field and a pond. We also got a variety of trees. In the yard around the house were sugar and silver maples, a red maple, tulip-trees, walnut trees and two white birch trees. There were flowering dogwood trees, two apple trees, red pines and a Norway spruce.
In the fencerows around the pastures there were mulberry trees and ash and wild cherry and boxelders. Wild grape vines grew on the trees as well as poison ivy, and around the trees were blackberries and other bushes. Around the pond were willows and cottonwoods and sycamore trees.
But there were no oak trees on our 42 acres. We like oaks so when I received an offer of twenty oak seedlings I accepted. Send so much to the Arbor Day Foundation, the offer read, and receive ten bur oak and ten Chinquapin oak seedlings, FREE.
Oaks have a world-wide distribution, not just North America. One reference I have states there are 300 species of oak, another reference states there are 400. While they disagree on the number of species of oaks in the world, my references agree there are 55 species in North America.
I planted the FREE oak seedlings I received among the maples that already shaded part of our lawn. If they had all grown I would transformed that part of our lawn into a forest. But four of the bur oaks and all the Chinquapins died.
The burr oaks that survived are now twenty-five feet tall. They’re mature, producing acorns. This year they have a bumper crow. The trees are loaded with acorns and acorns litter the ground around the trees.
Acorns are edible but they’re not to my taste. I’ve not tasted acorns of every species that grows in our area. I’ve not even tasted bur oak, the species that grows in our yard. But the acorns I have tasted have been bitter. I’ll leave them to the squirrels and believe me the squirrels are harvesting the acorns in our yard. So are deer, coming to our yard at night.
White oak, once a common tree in North America from the Atlantic Coast to the prairie and even in the prairie along rivers, had a significant part in the early history of our country. White oaks grow to eighty or ninety feet tall. The wood is dense and strong and was favored for ship building before ships were built of iron. Those were pioneer days in America, a time I’ve heard called days of iron men and wooden ships. White oak was used for the timbers that framed the hulls of ships and for planking on the hulls and for decks and bulkheads.
I have been on ships, iron ships, in storms at sea, both hurricanes and typhoons. I have seen the pounding the ship I was aboard took, the damage it sustained. From my experience I consider its amazing that ships built of wood came through such storms. While no longer used to build ships, white oak is used widely for railroad ties, for floors in buildings and for furniture.
Oaks have a high tannin content and have been used to make dyes. During World War I a dye made from the bark of white oak was used to color the khaki cloth of American army uniforms.
Oaks are generally slow growing and long lived. Growth rings in oaks have shown that many American oaks have lived a hundred years, two hundred years, three hundred years, even longer. Oaks in Europe have been found to have lived a thousand years, and longer.