Oak

Oak

10.00

Quercus spp.

Plant for the health of the forest, for the nuts, for firewood and mushroom logs, and for those coming after us!

Hardy from Zone 3-8. 50-80 feet high (can climb over 100 feet), 40-60 wide (depending on species and conditions).

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Oak has been a sacred tree in many traditions and myths, from Slavic to Norse to Celtic. The tree is often associated with lightning and thunder gods, perhaps because lightning often strikes tall heights with deep taproots. The name Oak conjures up symbols of strength and power, and it’s often used for its dense timber. This connotation has also been terribly misshapen as Oak has been a symbol of war, empire, and racist states. We see Oak in a different light, as a forest caretaker and reckless giver. Around here, we live in Oak-Hickory forests, which means Oak is a keystone species that sustains many others, including 500 species of insects, such as Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), who feed on the leaves. These trees bear incredible amounts of nuts known as mast, a word descending to us from Old English and probably related to meat. Which is definitely appropriate, because this rich food feeds the forest in a mast year. Only one in about 10,000 acorns grow into treehood, with many thousands feeding nut-foraging species, such as us!

We’re on the lookout for Oaks in mowed yards or pastures where we can easily harvest the acorns, squirreling away nuts to make flour and oil. Humans have eaten acorns, fresh or ground into flour, for thousands of years, certainly longer than we’ve been eating wheat. Leach the acorns first! Tannins give it a bitter flavor, but those tannins are handy for tanning hides and medicinal uses. Pigs don’t mind a little bit of bitters: grazing hogs on the mast is an ancient agricultural tradition in Spain, Portugal, and Britain, and Appalachian farmers have been known to follow the example. Woodland values in the Middle Ages were based on how many pigs could be fed on the mast.

Oak offers a home for wildlife and a sturdy windbreak, and its desire to resprout make it a good candidate for coppicing for fuelwood and mushroom logs, especially Shiitake, Japanese for “mushroom of the Oak.” New summer sprouts, from coppicing or insect damage, are known as Lammas leaves, named for the Celtic harvest festival. Oaks are broadly categorized into Red and White, both prized for their lumber, an industry which contributed to the colonization of this continent. Much of the old Oak-Hickory forests east of Appalachia were cut down before 1800 because of the economic demand both in Europe and the United States.

Oak offers a home for wildlife and a sturdy windbreak, and its desire to re-sprout makes it a good candidate for coppicing for fuelwood and mushroom logs, especially Shiitake, Japanese for “mushroom of the Oak.” New summer sprouts, from coppicing or insect damage, are known as Lammas leaves, named for the Celtic harvest festival. Oaks are broadly categorized into Red and White, both prized for their lumber, an industry which contributed to the colonization of this continent. Much of the old Oak-Hickory forests east of Appalachia were cut down before 1800 because of the economic demand both in Europe and the United States.

Old folklore suggests that carrying oak boughs protects you from harm, planting acorns in moonlight ensures money’s on the way, or carrying acorns with you increases your sexual potency. We can neither confirm nor deny these beliefs.

Right now, we have two species of Oak:

Red (rubra)- also called Northern or Eastern Red Oak, for the ruddy fall color. An excellent hardwood for furniture, finishing, and floors, and a wonderful living tree for nests and browse. We love using the acorns for breads and the bark has been known as medicine for heart and bronchial infections. Commonly planted as a shade or ornamental tree because it’s fast-growing and tolerant of pollution, which is why it’s also been used to replant coal mining sites

Pin (palustris)- a long-lived Oak with gorgeous triangular shape often planted for landscaping or in clay-heavy floodplains. The strong wood warps but burns well. Acorns feed deer, turkey, and duck. Smooth reddish-gray bark becomes darker and fissured as it matures. Along with a few other cousins, young Pin Oaks have marcescent leaves, which means that it retains dead leaves throughout the winter for a fluttering wind chime!

We propagate our Oak from nuts we gather from park and university groves.