Quercus – Oaks
Starting out with one of the coolest tree species out there, the oaks! This majestic tree species is normally plentiful in parks with kids running underneath and squirrels scrambling around in the branches, getting ready for the next winter. Oaks are known for their wide crowns, big trunk, deep roots, and rugged bark.
Outside of a North American park, oaks can be found in Mexico, South and Central America, the West Indies, Europe, Asia and even North Africa. They prefer dry, fire-prone sites, but they are also found on wetter, mesic sites. Interestingly, oaks are poorly adapted to long, freezing conditions. They are ring-porous. Winter freezing causes ice to form in the large oak vessels and often air bubbles will form in the process, which prevents the rejoining of water columns in the spring. This means new water columns need to be created to begin transporting water again in the spring.
The almost 300 different species of oaks can be broken down into two mains groups: white and red oak. The white oaks tend to have leaves with rounded lobes, whereas the red oak will have bristle-tipped leaves. You will also notice they have several lateral buds clustered around the terminal bud. Oak trees are monoecious, meaning they contain male and female flowers on the same tree, with pollination occurring by wind. After pollination, the cupped fruit, better known as acorns, begins to form. Once ripened, the acorns will fall to the ground. These acorns are the next generation of oak trees. Given enough sunlight, water and nutrients, the acorn will be able to germinate and begin growing. It’s amazing what Mother Nature can do on its own.
Historically, oaks have served as an important food source, fodder, fuel, and building materials, to name a few. Even today, oaks are known for their beautiful wood grains used in cabinetry and housing materials. For this reason, veneer grade oak is highly valuable.
This is just a brief intro into the world of oaks, with so many different species out there, it would be impossible to cover it all!
– Meagan Backhaus, CF, Assistant Project Forester