Yes friends, it's time for your sporadic dose of Druidy goodness - tree talk! For our second installment, we're going to discuss oak trees. :)
Tree Talk: Elm
Oak Trees Identification
- Their leaves are lobed, and can be either pointy (red oaks) or rounded (white oaks).
red oak, from https://treekey.phillytreemap.org/species/37.html
This site (https://www.gardenguides.com/115435-identify-oak-trees-leaf-shape.html) has some interesting info about counting the number of lobes on the leaf to determine exactly which species it is (I actually didn't know that before, so I'm going to write that down and test it out in the field myself!)
Can be as small as 3 feet high (California Scrub Oak, 3'-10' height), and as tall as 100 feet (Canyon Live Oak, 20'-100'; Valley Oak, 40'-100').
Produce acorns of varying shapes and sizes, with differently textured caps. Some are edible, but contain varying levels of tannins which make them bitter - the fewer tannins, the sweeter the acorn (https://honest-food.net/how-to-eat-acorns/).
two different kinds of acorns, one with the cap off
the inside nut of an acorn
- Can be deciduous (their leaves fall in autumn) or evergreen ("live oaks").
the Angel Oak Tree in South Carolina, a southern live oak; image from https://beautyplanet360.blogspot.com/2014/03/1-most-famous-and-beautiful-trees-of-earth.html
- English Oaks (and some other species) grow both male and female flowers/catkins:
Oak Trees Myths, Legends, and Customs
This is the ogham (Celtic alphabet) letter for oak, Duir, or sometimes Dair (which is where place names like Kildare and Derry in Ireland come from). The vertical line is not part of the letter per se; all ogham letters stem off a center line - it's the two horizontal lines on the left that are the letter itself.
What? You didn't know the Celts had a written language? They did, and you can see it on some standing stones, where the corner of the stone is the center line. But they're not grave markers, as you might think today. Most of them are place markers, like, "this is so-and-so's field," or road markers, like, "so-and-so city is this way, and so-and-so place is that way."
Oak trees are associated with druids, the high king or kingship in general, and the Dagda (a Celtic God, and the keeper of the Cauldron of Plenty) in Celtic culture. In Greece, there were oak tree spirits (Dryads), and the sacred oak grove at Dodona, which was sacred first to Diana and then to Zeus, was a place for oracles and prophecy. In the legend of Jason and the Argonauts, the Goddess Athene took a beam made from Zeus' oak at Dodona and fitted it into the prow of the ship; the beam would whisper to the Argonauts whenever danger threatened. In the bible, Abraham is supposed to have received heavenly visitors under an oak, Jacob buried the idols of Shechem under an oak, and Gideon saw the angel who told him how to free Israel under the Oak of Ophra.
The oak is associated with thunder Gods like Taranis (continental and British Celtic), Tuireann (Irish), Thor (Scandinavian), Thunor (Anglo-Saxon), and Zeus (Greek), which makes a lot of sense when you know that oak trees are struck by lightning more than any other species.
King Arthur's round table was supposed to have been made from one slice of a large oak, and Merlin's wand was the topmost branch of an oak tree. There is a town in Wales called Caerfyrddin, which means "Merlin's fortress," and there is a prophecy that when his oak fell, the town itself would fall. The tree credited as his was in Priory Street, and had deteriorated to a trunk reinforced with iron and concrete to keep it together, but then it was stolen! The town planted a new tree in a different location, but not where the original was, so as not to mess with the legend.
Oak Trees Growth, Habitat, and Disease
There are around 600+ species of oak. Some are deciduous and some are evergreen. They will grow in most any climate except the tropics, and can survive for centuries.
The English Oak is actually native to Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia - not just England.
Major Oak - reputed to be the hideout for Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and upwards of 1000 years old. Can fit 34 children within its hollow trunk. Image from https://www.history.com/news/10-famous-trees-in-history
The top 5 fastest growing oak trees, according to https://dengarden.com/gardening/5-Great-Fast-Growing-Oak-Trees, are: California White Oak, Northern Red Oak, Pin Oak, Sawtooth Oak, and Water Oak.
Red oaks are more susceptible to oak wilt disease, which is caused by a fungus, than white oaks.
And that's it for another edition of Tree Talk!
Thanks for joining me as we explore the mysteries of oak trees! See you next time! :)
National Audubon Society, Field Guide To Trees, Western Region (North America), by Elbert L. Little, Susan Rayfield, and Olivia Buehl
Form & Foliage, Guide To Shrubs & Trees, A Collection Of Garden Favorites, by Susin Leong & Tracy Loughlin
Tree Wisdom, The definitive guidebook to the myth, folklore and healing power of Trees, by Jacqueline Memory Paterson
Celtic Tree Mysteries, Secrets of the Ogham, by Steve Blamires