The Mighty Oak

September 18, 2016 lawanda Newspaper Columns

There are almost 100 different species of oak native to the United States. They occur naturally in all of the 48 contiguous states except, oddly, Idaho.

Probably the oak most Wisconsinites can identify is the white oak, whose leaves have the classic round-lobed shape.  The bur oak, one of the white oak group, is the most common oak native to the Midwest.  Many people also know red oak and black oak, whose leaves have sharply pointed lobes similar to those of maples.

Before people came along and covered Winnebago County with roads, parking lots, buildings and farm fields, this area was oak savanna, a lightly forested grassland where oak was the dominant tree species.  Today oak savanna is one of the rarest plant communities on earth.

Oak trees provide food for 534 species of butterflies and moths, more than any other tree.  That doesn’t even take into account the many other insects and the squirrels, chipmunks, deer, bears, turkeys, grouse and other birds that depend on oak trees to survive.

So why aren’t people planting more oaks?  The main reason is probably that they are relatively slow growing.  But so what?  They are the easiest of all the trees to plant, because you don’t have to lug a heavy tree home from the nursery, dig a big hole, heave the tree into the hole, and deal with all the other issues attendant with planting a tree.

No, all you have to do is plant an acorn.  Plant it on its side in a mostly sunny spot, about 1 ½ times as deep as the diameter of the acorn.  For example, if the acorn is an inch wide, plant it 1 ½ inches deep.  Protect the acorn from squirrels and mice by laying a piece of chicken wire over it before covering it with soil.  Water it well and wait.  It may even germinate the same fall you plant it.  For the first year, place a chicken wire cage around and over the seedling to protect it from animals.

Young oaks may be carefully transplanted, but it’s best to just decide where you want it to grow for the next several hundred years and plant the acorn in that spot.  Why not plant an oak to commemorate the birth of a child or grandchild, or to mark the occasion of a wedding or other special event?  Generations to follow can visit the mighty oak and recall stories of family long gone who cared enough to plant an oak.


Trees and Shrubs

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