Stately and Majestic.
Here in south central Wisconsin, oaks are the kings of the forests and prairies. While I hear that they once paled in comparison to the American Elms and Chestnuts in our forest, Dutch Elm disease and Chestnut Blight now keep those trees at a fraction of their former heights and oaks, with their wide arms and broad shoulders, have taken over the role of the largest tree in the forest.
The most beautiful example in Cottage Grove might very well be the tree at the top of the sledding hill on the northern edge of Glacial Drumlin’s school grounds. Grown in the open, it had no need to stretch for the sun, so its branches spread as wide as it is tall, casting lovely shade in the summer and offering a beautiful silhouette against the open sky in the winter.
Historically, white oak have grown throughout much of the Eastern United States, so the area east of the Mississippi. Here in Wisconsin, they are a key species of forests in the southern 2/3rds of the state and feature in Oak Woodlands and Oak Openings.
Per Forest Trees of Wisconsin: How to Know Them:
“Form: Height 60-100′, diameter 2-3′ and may become larger. Tall and straight in forest; short in the open with wide spreading, broad, rounded crown; with numerous heavy limbs spreading irregularly.
Bark – Pale gray, scaly, but not deeply fissured.
Leaf – Alternate; length 5-9″ and about half as broad; crowded towar ends of twigs; deeply divided into 5-9 lobs; becoming light green above and much paler below; sometimes remain on tree most of winter.
Fruit – A light brown acorn maturing the first year; length 3/4-1″, about 1/4 enclosed in cap; germinates in a few weeks after ripening and sends down a long, deep top root before winter.
Range – Common on the better soils in the sourthern half of the state.”
Did you know? Oaks can take 30 years before they produce a single acorn. Before they do, they hold on to their leaves all winter.
Oaks are an important food species in our state.
Acorns are used by small mammals (such as the squirrels that show up on our resident trail cam), deer, turkeys, and other birds.
Oaks host the highest number of butterfly and moth species – over 500 in the US! They also host leaf hoppers, thrips and other beneficial insects – which means they are a gathering spot for the birds who feast on insects. If you have an oak tree in your yard, you have an entire ecosystem waiting for you to explore.
White oak acorns can be eaten. While they can be eaten raw (unlike many acorns), they are apparently better after being roasted or boiled and dried. They can they be treated as a nut or ground into flower.
Per Samuel Thayer, they provide primarily starch with a little fat and protein.
Oak bark made into tea can be used to treat toothaches, stomach troubles, colds and bronchitis. It can also be used as an appetite stimulant.
It is anti-inflamatory.
Per the Rodale Herb Book, the bark of the white oak has antisceptic properties. A decoction of the bark can be used to treat diarrhea because of its astringent qualities.
Oak’s primary usage for crafting is its wood, which is excellent for building. Due to its unique cell structure, it can be used to make water tight barrels.
Per the Rodale Herb Book, the inner bark of the white oak can be used to create a chartreuse dye if boiled in an iron kettle with no mordant.
Due to its stately appearance, white oaks are often used as symbols of stability and calm.
Diseases and Threats
Oak wilt is a risk. To avoid spreading it to a tree, avoid pruning during the growing season. Winter is the right time to prune an oak. Digging near the oak in the summer can also introduce the pathogen if you dig close enough to do root damage. Roots generally extent at least as far as the edge of the canopy.
Many plants naturally grow near oaks in the savannah and forect.