Sunday, June 1, 2008

Majestic White Oak Trees

Our yard is filled with white oaks. They live longer than any other native tree here in Virginia, but not when the soils have been disturbed. The beautiful structure reaches its peak if it has an open meadow to grow in. You often see them around farmhouses in our area.

To paraphrase the natural historian, Donald Peattie, they are like outdoor mansions of shade, greenery, and leafy music - the scaffolds of the limbs form an upstairs and an attic - there are rooms everywhere in an old white oak.Thomas Jefferson referred to the White Oak, Quercus alba, as the "Jupiter of our Groves."

The white oak is a species that defines the character of the forest in our mid-Atlantic Piedmont area. It's like our signature tree, as the live oaks are to the Gulf Coast, the redwoods to Northern California and the aspens in the mountains of Colorado.

The Wye Oak in Maryland was considered the largest white oak in the nation and was nurtured until its ultimate death in 2002. It stood to represent time passed and time to come, the generations of people it witnessed in life, and the perseverance of man and nature. The desire to have this tree live on led to its offspring being grown at the state nursery. Thousands of Wye Oak trees from its acorns have been planted around the United States.

Read the historical account of this ancient oak and find out what the wood was used for in
this article.

This largest white oak in the nation was been replaced by a 105-foot-tall white oak on Northampton Street in Northwest Washington, D.C. It stands on private property in front of a house but close to the street. It has been a neighborhood treasure for years. In 1940 planners accommodated the tree and another by curving the street around them as the area was developed.

The white oak is a tree that has built much in our country: ships, mills, barns, log cabins, and of course the white oak barrel for the vineyards. The white oak represents longevity, endurance and strength even after its harvest.

Sadly white oaks are a threatened species. They aren't regenerating in our forests because of browsing deer. Mature trees may soon be the target of phytopthera root rot, a deadly disease introduced from California. Also, as development spreads throughout its native habitat, white oaks are victimized. Most developers no longer consider the beauty of developing around trees.

White oaks don't like much disturbance to their roots, and if topsoil is stripped and filled with red clay or compacted with construction equipment, they do not do well. Our front yard is evidence of that. Although the builder worked around the oaks, after the house was finished he took out the smaller trees and brush and in the process disturbed all the soils around these beautiful trees. We've been here over seven years and have been watching as one after another dies.

Although it's sad to see them go, I focus on the beauty in the life they can sustain with the many species that depend on dead trees for survival. They are also a blessing to the homeowner in many ways. We have an abundance of woodpeckers that nest on our property and enjoy the culinary delights of a dead tree, but there are hundreds of other things that depend on them also. Read more about the benefits of dead trees.

Reference: Twinleaf Journal and Catalog No. 18, 2006

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