Wednesday, November 12, 2008

ABC Wednesday: Quite a Quercus

This week we have come to the letter Q, not an easy letter to illustrate. Once I thought about it, though, the choice was obvious, and I was so eager to post my entry for Q that I almost posted this last week by mistake. And so, the eagerly awaited Q is for . . .

Quercus Macrocarpa

. . .Otherwise known as the Bur Oak. Regular readers here will recognize this tree as one I've shown on this blog several times, including this past August when, on a lark, I entered it in the "Gardening Olympics" sponsored by Idaho Gardener. To my surprise, it won a gold medal! Medalwinner or not, this is indeed a stately tree that sits at the front of our large yard, shading those who enter our driveway. Its age is unknown, but judging from its size it must be over 100 years old, making it a symbol of the permanence of the land, existing generations before us.

Until recently, I wasn't sure what type of oak it was--I thought it might be a white oak, the state tree of Illinois. But with the help of my friend, a high school biology teacher, I now know that it is a Bur Oak. In trying to identify the trees on our property, I've discovered that studying the leaves alone is not conclusive--you must often also look at the bark, the shape of the twig, and the fruit of the tree.

The Bur Oak's leaves are distinctive from other oaks, with a wide top that narrows at the bottom. But this can still be confusing. The telltale identifier of the Bur Oak, though, is its acorn. The acorn is larger than most other oaks, and its cap extends at least halfway down with a "conspicuous fringe," which accounts for its other name, Mossycup Oak.

According to Wikipedia:
"The acorns are the largest of any North American oak, and are an important wildlife food; American Black Bears sometimes tear off branches to get them. However, heavy nut crops are borne only every few years. In this strategy, known as masting, the large seed crop every few years overwhelms the ability of seed predators to eat the acorns, thus ensuring the survival of some seeds. Other wildlife, such as deer and porcupine, eat the leaves, twigs and bark. Cattle are heavy browsers in some areas. The bur oak is the only known foodplant of Bucculatrix recognita caterpillars."

This must be the year for the large seed crop because it is impossible to walk anywhere in the vicinity of my oak without crunching on hundreds of acorns underfoot. As you can see, some type of wildlife has been eating a few of the acorns--I do hope it's squirrels, though, and not black bears!

The Bur Oak is a common tree in the Midwest, extending as far west as the Rockies and even as far south as Texas. It is billed as an excellent tree for urban planting because of its dense shade and resistance to air pollution and heat stress. Of course, it's not a tree you would plant for immediate shade--it is one of the slowest growing trees. But it makes up for this in size and in longevity. The Bur Oak can grow as tall as 70-80 feet, and as it ages it spreads horizontally, with a possible canopy of 80 feet or more in width. I have no idea how tall my tree is,
but I did measure its circumference 4 feet above its base--it is about 17 feet around, give or take a few inches due to my tripping on the acorns underfoot. Because it can live for 200-300 years or more, it is a tree to plant for posterity.

This oak is not as showy in the fall as some of its more colorful relatives like the Pin Oak or the Red Oak. But as I showed on last week's post, it did surprise me this year with its bronze foliage. And while my showy maple is slowly losing all its leaves, many of the oak leaves are clinging tenaciously to their branches. They may be the last leaves to fall this autumn.

I was excited when I learned my tree was a Bur Oak, because near the place where I grew up there is a small area of virgin woods that we called the Bur Oak. At one time a nearby one-room schoolhouse was named Bur Oak after these woods. I like to imagine my ancestors seeing these magnificent trees when they settled in the area in the 1870's. The Bur Oaks may have been old trees even then! But after I googled Bur Oak, I discovered we don't own the copyright to this name, sometimes spelled Burr Oak. There are towns in Kansas and Michigan called Bur Oak, not to mention schools, parks, and even bed and breakfasts. Other settlers, including the pioneers heading West, found the Bur Oak a useful tree not only for shade, but for its extremely strong wood. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, the tree "came to the rescue of unfortunate travelers who needed new wagon tongues, wheels hubs, or spokes." Another interesting bit of trivia from the same site is that Sioux City, Iowa is the "location of the Council Oak, so named because Lewis and Clark held council with the Native Americans under its already 150 year old branches."

I may not be able to claim the Quercus Macrocarpa as unique to Illinois--in fact, it is the state tree of Iowa--but I can admire its rich heritage and its quiet beauty. It has earned the name "Mighty Oak."

For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider,
every green tree is far more glorious
than if it were made of gold and silver.
--Martin Luther

ABC Wednesday is brought to you by Mrs. Nesbitt; other posts can be found at the ABC Anthology.


  1. It certainly is an magnificent tree. I can imagine that it won a prize with one of its pictures. The acorns are also different from our oaks. It must be very old! So this is a Quercus! Good choice.

  2. I learn something new every day as a Blogger. I'd never heard of a Bur Oak before, although, as an English woman, the oak has always been special to me.

  3. Great Q post! I can understand your enthusiasm. The old oak in your front yard is a beautiful speciman and very worthy of it's own post. I had some of the grand girls at a park a few weeks ago and we were amazed at all the Bur Oak acorns. Lots of realy interesting information. Thanks for sharing. (There should be something we could do with them!?)

  4. What a fascinating, informative post. I love the shape of oak leaves, and acorn cups were very special to me when I was tiny.

    Thanks for the visit.

  5. Excellent "Q" post Rose. I love burr oak acorns. I always pick up some for fall decorations. They are so big.

  6. Smart going with the scientific name! Loved the information. Happy Wednesday!

  7. It is such a beautiful tree. So lucky to have a mature oak-especially one with such great qualities. Love those acorns.

  8. Those Burr oak leaves have a great shape, don't they...

  9. What a magnificent tree that is Rose. I can only imagine all the wonderful shade it provides for you. We have a Pin oak in our front yard that was planted before we moved in. It's tiny and it can't seem to decide if it wants to live or croak.

  10. I live in Derwen Fawr, which is welsh for great oak. Apparently the tree that gave the area its name was or maybe still is in the grounds of the Bible College just opposite our house.

    Oh look , my word verifier is 'quent'!

  11. Reader Wil, I love old trees, and I was happy to find out what kind of oak it was.

    Rinkly Rimes, I thought the Bur Oak was native to central U.S., which is why you're not familiar with it. It's a lovely old tree.

    Beckie, Yes, this tree is special to me. And we have had so many acorns this year! I picked some up, thinking I might do something crafty (?!) with're welcome to all you'd like.

    Dragonstar, Thanks. Don't fairies use acorn cups to sit in?

  12. As you know Rose I love the oak.....I love reading about the bur oak, really interesting, you can never have too much info on trees.....

    We had heavy falls of acorns last heavy they had piled around the garden.....I now have small saplings appearing all over the place, tks to the squirrel.....
    this year I have hardly noticed an acorn.....

    Lots of interesting info,tks Rose and your oak is beautiful......we have bright sunshine again today....Poppi and I have been outside and are now sharing a hot drink.......
    Hope you are well........

  13. Oaks make quite a 'presence' in a landscape. I planted one when I first moved to my farm. It is probably 20-feet tall now but still very narrow. It will may not produce acorns in my lifetime. Definitely a tree you plant for the future.

  14. Dear Rose, I'm so glad you posted this, it was so interesting and I love the quote at the end, so true.

    I was wondering if it was the pattern of the inside of the wood that gave it the name. When I was an interior designer (pre family) I used to buy some lovely wooden furniture which was made of Burr Elm. The patterning of the wood was very beautiful, I wonder what your tree looks like from the inside!

  15. Really enjoyed the Q story! Good to see the oak again.

  16. Wow, I just learned a lot here! I've seen that kind of acorn, but didn't know which type of oak it came from. I also didn't know they only make acorns periodically. How do they figure that out, I wonder? ;)

  17. Fine post.
    I do like oaks ( chêne in French).
    I live not very far from the lake Der ( der was the name of oak too).
    My familiy came from the Sarthe where two farms are called "Grande et petite Cherouvrie" I think that our family name could come from chêne.

  18. Excellent Q! You have a fantastic Bur Oak! I have a smaller version in my front yard that is probably 70+ years old! Yours must be the great grandaddy of Bur Oaks!


  19. Tee hee - I did Quercus for Round 2! Mine was our native Quercus robur though. Great to get re-acQuainted with the American version :)

  20. That's the perfect Q, Rose. I love those acorns. They sure have character.

  21. Gorgeous photos of a wonder of nature. I posted a photo of one of their leaves I found this fall and it was over 11 inches in length! Nice post--thanks for sharing.

  22. From little acorns grow these magnificent images.

  23. That was a very interesting and informative post! Quite fascinating. I love oak trees (another Englishwoman) and nature of all kinds. I too wonder if it's the pattern in the wood that gives it its name.

    Thank you for taking part in ABC Wednesday! Mr Linky is misbehaving, but we do appreciate your posts! :)

  24. The house I grew up in was surrounded by mature Burr Oaks. I didn't realize what a privelege it was. Some of the leaves were massive, easily over a foot long. I loved the sound the leaves made when I'd shuffle through them down the street. I miss those old Oaks!

  25. Rose .. I wanted to say thank you for your kind message. It was very much appreciated. Thank you !

  26. To everyone, thanks for your comments. I had to leave early this morning and have been gone all day--how nice to come home and find lots of "tree huggers" for company:)

  27. Lisa, I picked up a sackful yesterday; not sure what I'm going to do with them, but who knows, maybe one of these days I'll actually make a wreath? You're welcome to some of mine!

    (i)post, Thanks for stopping by! I was going to skip this week, until it hit me that quercus is the botanical name for oaks.

    Tina, I love this tree and don't feel too guilty about bragging about it because I had nothing to do with planting it. I only hope it lasts another 100 years.

    Aphotoaday, Yes, they're beautiful leaves, though of course the maple are more colorful.

    Susie, Pin oaks are lovely trees, too; I hope yours decides to live!

  28. Liz, I just love Welsh names! The oaks are such stately and long-lasting trees, as long as natural disasters or developers don't fell them.

    Cheryl, I forgot to add to my post that this summer I was a little disgusted with my husband for not trimming around the oak, so I set out with my trimmer and tidied it all up. What I didn't know until later is that he had been babying an oak seedling for a few years growing next to the old one's base. Apparently I cut it down, too. Next time I will be more observant and careful! Now I've noticed a few other seedlings, probably planted by the squirrels, in other places. I will not make the same mistake!

  29. How wonderful to have a garden big enough for an oak tree. What an interesting post! I like the bottom photo best of all. The oak is such a satisfying shape. I love to see them, in England, standing stoutly in the countryside.

  30. Marnie, Even if your oak is only 20 feet tall, that's quite an accomplishment for such a slow-growing tree! I had a quote from Warren Buffet I was going to use here, something like "If you are sitting in the shade of a tree, you can thank someone who planted it long before you." Future generations will be so thankful you planted that tree.

    Suburbia, I never thought about the pattern--I've heard of burled wood, which is probably what you are referring to. I hope I don't get to see the inside of my tree, though!

  31. Ma, Glad you enjoyed it!

    Fat, frumpy, and fifty, Thanks! I will drop by to see your post a little later.

    Joyce, I'm learning, too! I think they drop acorns each year, but some years there are just lots of them, which happens to be this year, I guess. Somewhere I read that lots of acorns also means a harsh winter--hope that's not true!

  32. Deslilas, Thank you for the French lesson! It's interesting to know where our family names came from.

    Gail, I thought you had a Bur Oak--I remembered you posting it some time ago. In doing some research I found that the largest trees in Illinois are quite a bit bigger than mine. They must be really old!

    VP, Oh, I think I remember that! Well, great minds think alike:) I'll have to look up that post and re-read it.

    Cindy, Thanks; my granddaughter finds them fascinating, too.

    Nonizamboni, (Love your blog name!) that was a huge leaf--I don't think any of our leaves are quite that big.

    Babooshka, Yes, they do, but it also shows a lot of patience:)

    Jay, Thanks for your kind comments; this is a fun meme that I enjoy doing as long as I can think of something relevant. The oak tree is the symbol of strength and patience, isn't it?

    MMD, You could come and walk through my yard to revisit those childhood memories:) I'm just hoping the wind will blow some of them away so I don't have to rake them all!

    Joy, Thank you for dropping by; I hope life is going better for you right now.

    Mean Mom, I'm fortunate to have quite a few trees, none of which I can take responsibility for. Most of them were planted by my husband's parents, but this oak was here long before that.

  33. Creative choice and beautiful trees. Oaks are so stately. I invite you to come take a ride on my quad into the Powell River, BC, back country. - Margy

  34. WOW! Thanks! Learned something new again! Bur Oak! Q is such difficult letter! Great choice!

    By the way, maybe you would like to join my bloggy anniversary giveaway :)


  35. I am QUITE late this week visiting your blog.
    I was feeling QUEASY yesterday.

    Bear((( )))

  36. Hi Rose, as a big fan of oak trees, I was happy to see your large older fellow, or lady, especially with all those acorns. Gail was kind enough to bring me a bag of burr oak acorns when she came to visit. I still haven't decided what to do with them, maybe a craft of some kind or just display them in a bowl. I love the thought of the history these old trees have seen. They are the Ents from the Tolkien trilogy!

  37. I love the idea of "a stately tree " I wish we could protect all our stately trees from being removed for the sake of urban growth!
    Love reading all the facts about this Bur Oak!
    Just up the street we have a street named BURL Oak..why because one side of the street is in a town
    of burlington and the other half is in the town of Oakville..a town filled with Oak trees!
    BTW: I have posted MORE of MONET'S garden!

  38. What a fabulous tree! The acorns & leaves are so different than the oaks I'm use to around here. Great choice for ABC Wednesday!

  39. Now I am SO IMPRESSED that you actually came up with a plant that starts with Q! What a gorgeous tree - I love the great big, old growth trees.

  40. Powell River Books, Thanks for dropping by; I enjoyed the "ride" on your quad with you.

    Earthling gorgeous, Thank you, and congratulations on your blogaversary!

    Bear Naked, Hope you are feeling better today. Isn't there a Doctor Bear in your house who might have something for you?:)

    Frances, I collected some acorns, too! If you come up with a good idea using them, I'd love to see it. And thanks for the info on the Ents--I'm ashamed to admit I never made it through the trilogy, though I loved The Hobbit. And though I've seen parts of the movies, I really want to read the books first.

    Nature Girl, There was a funny, but also sad, quote I found about trees: "Suburbia is a place where developers cut down all the trees and then name the streets after them." Unfortunately, too true sometimes.
    Your photos of the Monet garden were such a special treat.

    Racquel, I am finding I don't know that much about trees--maples and oaks are easy to identify. But trying to distinguish between the different varieties is not so easy; I'm glad I had some expert help.

    Amy, It was one of those brainstorms that hit occasionally:) I love old trees, too. There used to be more here, but unfortunately most were lost to lightning over the years.

  41. Haven't seen that particular acorn since I left Missouri for Connecticut. Wonderful to see again!

  42. Rose, it truly is magnificent. I must take notice of a few stately oaks that look similar to the Bur Oak and report back :o)

  43. Dear Rose,
    Thank you!
    You wrote a lovely tribute for the Burr Oak tree. It IS a Mighty Oak.
    I have an old Pin Oak in my front yard. My kids planted a Swamp Oak for their son when he died. The oak is a fine tree! They will hopefully out live us all!
    I have seen the oak in Council Groove.
    Thank you again for an informative and interesting post.
    Long live the Mighty Oak.

  44. Rose, I was wondering what you would do for “q.” Brava! If you were in England you could have blogged about quince trees. Congratulations on your gold medal! Lovely quotation from Martin Luther too.

  45. A very fine 'Q' post, Rose! I have a passion for 'The Mighty Oak' ('Mighty Oaks' is the name of sister's lake house and we have an awesome swing hung from a mighty arm on our majestic oak here at the lake ... love the night sound of acorns falling, hitting the deck).

  46. What a beautiful tree! Wow - that's a lot of info. Thank you for posting it. I had no idea there were that many different oaks - and we have oak trees in our backyard.
    Love your header. It's really bright and vibrant!

  47. I knew you'd find "q." Can't wait until you get to "x." What a wonderful tree! Cosmo

  48. How fun to come across this post, Rose! Especially after I talked about our oaks here - we have the same large oaks in our front yards! :-)


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