The White Oak. My personal favorite, though I’m not sure why I’ve developed such an affection for this tree. It is not the most common tree at Roundrock. It’s outnumbered by the Blackjack Oaks and Post Oaks and the Pignut Hickories, and certainly by the cedars. Nor were there any in the yard where I grew up. (Pin oaks, as I recall, with their drooping lower limbs that once poked me directly in the eye!) I recall a massive stand of White Oaks at a nature reserve near St. Louis that I visited all the time as a youngster. A cathedral stand, I called it. Only later, when I returned to the site on an abbreviated visit many years later, did I learn they were actually Red Oaks. White Oaks rise in every county in Missouri, and they are considered common in most of the eastern United States.
I don’t suppose it was the first tree I learned to identify. I can’t say that I ever ever climbed one (though there is one at Roundrock that keeps calling my name). At my grandfather’s Kentucky farm we had a treehouse, but that was in some pine trees. I’m not sure I could identify the wood of this tree in a lumber yard or in a piece of furniture. I don’t think I’ve ever cut one down or chopped a fallen one into firewood. I may not have even whittled a White Oak branch into a toothpick. And yet it seems like the most important tree in my woods.
I know the location of specific White Oak trees in my forest. I could take you directly to several mighty ones that call attention to themselves by the size of their trunks and the spread of their canopies. As big as they are, though, I don’t think their real old timers. I’d guess my largest aren’t yet 100 years old, which means that, barring catastrophe, they could continue to be around as long as I am around (and far longer — some White Oaks have been found that are more than 600 years old). I’ve tried to nurture these beauties in the few ways that I can. I’ve removed any dead branches I can reach so the bark can grow over the wound and eventually seal it. I’ve removed some competition trees from around them so they can get more of the soil nutrients and the sky sunshine. And I send them all of the happy thoughts I can muster.
The bark on the trunks of more mature White Oaks often take on a characteristic pattern, which you see illustrated here.
It is as though some of the bark has been rubbed away, and I first wondered if deer might do this when they are trying to clean the velvet from their antlers, but apparently this is not the case. Nor, I must concede, is this the result of bears scratching their backs on the trees. The bark of the White Oak tree is favored as an herbal medicinal (as well as an ingredient for witches’ potions, I understand), and I began to wonder if perhaps someone was wandering my woods, harvesting bark to sell at health food stores. Only later did I learn that this patchiness is the result of an otherwise harmless fungus that grows on the bark. Regardless, it does make a White Oak trunk easy to identify.
The White Oaks tend to do best in the deepest soil, and as a result, the mightiest specimens I have are in the western part of Roundrock where the good prairie soil has not yet washed down the ravines to fill in my lakebed. Two of the largest rise across from each other beside our pond. Another healthy representative stands nearby. There are several good White Oaks beside the pine plantation, and there are a few hidden amongst the younger trees near our campsite. I’m sure I haven’t found all of the big White Oaks at Roundrock, so this gives me another reason to go hike the woods.
White Oak lumber is favored for furniture and barrel staves. Something about the graining allows the oak to remain water tight. And the forest critters appreciate the tree for its abundant branches suitable for nesting as well as its cavities for denning. White Oaks produce acorns, of course, but the amount of energy required to do this can mean that they may take a half dozen years before they can produce a heavy crop, and in some years they may not produce any acorns at all. Of the ones produced, those not eaten by the deer or the turkeys or the raccoons or the opposums or the other wild things can fall victim to worms. It has been said that it takes 10,000 acrons to produce a single White Oak tree. You can understand, then, why I try to nurture the ones I have.
- Female coyotes wean pups.