Oak Trees: What Should You Know?

Oak trees are a staple of our society. We see it in nature but also as business logos, in movies, and in artwork. It is the standard tree that most of us would draw. However, there are many species that classify as oaks and they do not all look the same. It is a slow growing tree, but also very easy for the amateur arborist to handle. It is a tree that can survive in many kinds of climates, and it is in abundance all over the Northern Hemisphere. The oak tree is hardy and old; in this case, we can find evidence of the oak tree in fossils from millions of years ago.

So How Many Kinds of Oak Trees Are There?

There are 600 separate species of oak in the world. The oak species covers both trees and shrubs. It is part of the beech family, Fagaceae, and of the genus, Quercus. This genus includes both evergreens and deciduous vegetation. North America contains the greatest variety of species of oak, with China containing the second most variety. The oak is one of the most common species of tree in North America. Although, they seem to thrive about anywhere. You can find them as the standalone tree in an urban park or backyard or in a dense woody area.

The primary difference between oak trees is the shape of the leaves. Therefore, we split all oak species into two categories, red oaks and white oaks. The primary difference between the two types is the shape of the leaves. White oaks have rounded leaves, while the red oak species have pointed leaves. Red oaks also have a darker color bark. Conversely, the timber is the opposite. White oak lumber is darker and browner in hue, and the red oak lumber is lighter and pinker in hue.

Types of red oaks (just to name a few):

  • Red Oaks
  • Black Oaks
  • Willow Oaks
  • Sawtooth Oaks

Types of white oaks (just to name a few):

  • White Oaks
  • Southern live Oaks
  • Bur Oaks
  • English Oak
  • Sessile Oak

How Big Do Oak Trees Grow?

The mighty oak is a slow growing, but a large tree. For instance, they can grow 70 feet in height and their branches can be over 100 feet long in span. The trunk is thick with a deep root system once established. Overall, Oaks can sustain severe weather from strong, hurricane-like winds to icy, winter storms.

What Do Oak Trees Look Like?

The bark has deep fissures, and the leaves have rounded edges and set in a spiral. The leaves grow closer to the top half of the tree and are round. In addition, the fruit of the oak is the acorn, a hard nut. Moreover, the leaves are a dark green in the spring and summer and turn to a darker red in the autumn. Though many species lose their leaves in winter, not all do. 

Its acorn fruit, which falls from its branches, categorizes the oak tree. An oak tree loses its acorns in the autumn and so they are a common staple for the diet of a hibernating animal. Later on, squirrels, deer, and even birds will not only consume acorns, but those that hibernate will collect them. Meanwhile, an acorn is already a fertilized seed ready to grow. Any acorn that remains untouched by animals or man will settle on the ground until spring.

Where Can I Find Oak Trees?

You can find the oak all over the Northern Hemisphere. They are most abundantly found in North America, but we can also find different species in Europe, Asia, Central America, and Africa. Its strong root system also allows it to sustain a drier climate. Because of the strong root system, the oaks are hardy and able to withstand more frigid temperatures in wintertime.

The most common type of oak is the white oak. This is not to be confused with the grouping of oak species known as white oaks. Whereas, the white oak species is its own entity within the white oak group. In North America, the states of Georgia and Alabama boast the most oaks by sheer volume. However, Texas takes the prize for the most variety of oak species. There are three states in the United States that do not have any native oak trees. Given that, two are obvious, being Alaska and Hawaii. In fact, Idaho cannot boast any native oaks.

Europe is also home to many oaks. You can find the Common Oak dominating the forests of Europe. Spain and the southeastern section of Europe is where the oak numbers dwindled. Britain is home to two native oaks. The first of these oaks is the Common Oak, known in Britain as the English Oak found throughout Europe, and the second is the Sessile Oak, which is not so common.

How Long Can Oak Trees Live?

Because of its hardiness, it is not uncommon for an oak to reach over 1000 years old. Oak trees are so old that we can even find them in the fossil record. The ancient oak species were around in the Cretaceous period, found as early as 32-35 million years ago. In addition, the evidence shows that the oak as we know it came into the fossil record 25 million years ago. 

Can I Grow My Own Oak Trees?

The oak tree is a forgiving tree to the amateur arborist. You can collect acorns on a nature walk. It can take a couple of decades before the oak produces its own acorns. They can start inside to protect them against the elements and transplanted in the spring. An acorn will take a few weeks to germinate and have some substantial root system (once transplanted) in another two months. Within the first year, the oak sapling can reach as high as 4 feet in height, but the tree will not mature for another 40 years. The sapling will need protection both from wind and weather, but also from the local wildlife. Provided that you protect your sapling, it will grow into a beautiful oak tree that stands the tests of time.

See our article on how to grow an Oak from an Acorn

It Is Time To BRANCH Out Into Some Fun Tree Facts!

  • As shown above, oak trees grow at a slow rate and can live to over 1000 years old. It is not uncommon to find an oak of that age. For example, the oldest living oak tree is a coast live oak located in California in the United States. After all, researchers estimate it to be over 2000 years old. It is under the protection of a federal trust and now sits on a reservation. Despite its age, it still produces acorns, though it is not yearly. 
  • The largest oak also lives in the United States in Louisiana. This tree receives the marking as largest, not because of its girth or height, but because of its limb spread. The limbs of this tree reach to 153 feet.
  • Oaks are used as logos for businesses, societies, clubs, and are the state tree for many states.
  • The United States has named the oak as the national tree..

What Are Some Uses For Oak Trees?

Natural Uses

The oak tree is not just a beautiful vision of power and strength, but the tree also can be quite useful. Oak trees, while still living, provide excellent protection to the lands and our structures. The canopy of their leaves is thick, which can block wind and precipitation from destroying land and buildings. In addition, the root system is also strong, giving stability to the earth. The oak tree also gives us the benefits of all living trees and plants. It helps create a wonderful environment for us to breathe and a beautiful natural habitat for countless animals, birds, and insects. 

Artistic Uses

It cannot go without mentioning that the oak tree is a stunning piece of living art. Likewise, the oak tree represents strength and is a perfect backdrop and focus point for artists. As witnessed on drives in the Northern United States, the reds of the leaves of autumn paint the forest with a beautiful hue.

Residential/Commercial Uses

Altogether, oak is used for commercial and residential settings often. Oak wood is classified as a hardwood and quite strong. After all, we have used it for centuries to build ships. The wood was abundant enough to rely on and strong enough to depend on while on the sea. For example, we can turn it into homes, furniture, and other structures. We can even use it for cabinets and flooring. Distillers use the wood of the oak for barrels of alcohol. It is a beautiful wood that is durable. 

Wrap Up

The oak tree is one of the most common trees found in the Northern Hemisphere. By and large, it is the stereotypical tree that we all think of but also love. It has incredible uses while still living, but we also utilize the timber in so many ways. The oak is a slow growing tree, but can grow to high heights and long years. If you are thinking of growing your own oak tree, the genus is hardy. With this in mind, you can look for an acorn on your nature walk, or you can purchase a sapling from your local nursery.

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