There’s nothing more majestic than an English Oak tree and I have a wonderful specimen in my own Horsham garden.
A local tree surgeon once told me that it was the best-shaped oak tree he had ever seen, so I now treasure it even more. Actually he has a lot of good information on his website about Horsham Tree Surgery
The silhouette of an oak is awe inspiring. As a child I used to lie in bed looking at the outline of an old tree that stood at the end of the garden. In those days my eyesight was 100% and I could make out every branch and tiny twig outlined against the sky – especially on a clear day.
Even now that I can’t pick out every detail quite so clearly, it’s still a wondrous thing to behold. So many branches, branchlets, twigs and twiglets, each ending in a bud that somehow turns into a beautiful leaf.
In the spring miracles happen and the tree turns pale green, then gradually as the leaves open it turns into a mass of leaves that give it a solid appearance from a distance.
A closer look reveals the unique shape of each oak leaf, which I would hope would be instantly recognisable by every child in the UK.
I don’t know whether anyone has ever calculated how many leaves form the canopy when the tree is in full leaf, but it must be hundreds of thousands I would think. It certainly makes a dense cover, beloved by birds and squirrels, although light enough in the middle to allow flowers like bluebells and primroses to grow beneath.
The scientific name for the English Oak is Quercus Robur, and it’s actually a member of the beech family Fagacaea, which I didn’t realise until recently. It certainly doesn’t look like the beech trees in the garden.
The oak lives for several hundred leaves and a mature specimen reaches 20 to 40 metres. If you’ve ever observed an acorn sprouting and watched it grow into a tree, you’ll know that it grows very fast. Apparently its growth slows after about 120 years and it can even make itself shorter as it ages in order to prolong its life.
I’ve always wondered why oak apples appear, though I haven’t seen them nearly as often as acorns. What are they exactly? So I’ve done some research and now know that they are atually galls containing the lavae of gall wasps, who lay their eggs on developing leaf buds! Who knew? All this time I’ve been thinking it was some kind of fruit of the oak!
The oak tree also produces flowers in spring, though they’re pretty inconspicuous amongst the thick foliage of the plant.
Our oaks are home to many grey squirrels, who keep us entertained by leaping from branch to branch. In autumn they become very busy burying acorns all over the lawn and even in my patio pots! Consequently oak saplings spring up all over the place in the spring.
The acorns are the seeds of the tree of course and little gems in themselves. They comprise a little cupule hanging from a stem, into which the acorn sits until it is ripe. Then it loosens from its home and drops to the ground, either with or without the cupule intact. Some years seem to produce a bumper harvest and the spring brings a plethora of tiny sprouting trees.
It may be a cliche but it is certainly wonderful how such a majestic and long-lived tree can grow from a humble acorn planted by a squirrel!