In 2004, Congress made it official: The oak is our national tree. In a bit of a different twist from other national symbols, the oak was chosen after the Arbor Day Foundation conducted a 4 month long selection process. The oak received 20,000 votes more than the red wood which finished in second place. The oak is also the official tree of Washington, D.C., as well as the state tree for Iowa, New Jersey, Georgia, Illinois, Connecticut, and Maryland.
There is not just one type of oak tree. Rather, there are approximately 600 different species that are all part of the genus Quercus. North America is home to approximately 70 different types of oaks. Acorns are not produced until most oak trees are 20 years old, but some species do not produce acorns until they are 50 years old. While that might seem along time for many trees, a variety of oaks can live up to 200 years. One species found in Poland can live up to almost 500 years. The Seven Sisters Oak tree in Louisiana is thought to be more than 1000 years old! Hold onto your hat…The Angel Oak Tree in South Carolina may be as old as 1500 years!!
The phrase “mighty oak” underscores some of the more amazing aspects of this tree. Long a symbol of strength, the oak was once thought to have healing properties. The Romans even suspected an oak could attract lightening. The oak is such an impressive tree that the both the United States Air Force and Army award an oak leaf cluster metal if the recipient earns the same medal two or more times.
Oaks have been used for a variety of purposes. The bark of the white oak tree is medicinal. The wood from oak trees in Japan are used by Yamaha to make its drums. Barrels made from the wood of oaks add flavor to wines and spirits. Oak wood is also favored by many cooks when they smoke a variety of different types of food.
Many oak trees carry such history that they have been named. There is actually long list of well-known, or even famous, oak trees. Here is just a “cluster” of examples. The Washington Oak is associated with the Battle of Princeton in 1777, and the Sunnybrook Oaks in Louisiana provided shelter for Andrew Jackson during Battle of New Orleans. The Big Tree in Rockport, Texas may be the largest tree in the country. It measures more than 45 feet in height and spreads more than 90 feet. The Jackson Oak of Athens, Georgia is also known as the “Tree that Owns Itself.” The tree bears the legend that it was deeded unto itself by Colonel William Henry Jackson. There are folks on both sides of the debate about the existence of a valid deed. The tree known to Colonel Jackson fell in 1942. However, the “Son of the Tree That Owns Itself”, grown from an acorn of the original tree, now stands in its place. local authorities maintain the tree does own itself, and the Athens’ Junior Ladies’ Garden Club keep a close eye on it to make sure it is well cared for. Although the El Nino rains of 1998 caused the death of the 1000 year old Encino Oak Tree in California, it was deemed a cultural landmark because of its 150 foot canopy. A tribute to the tree was dedicated in 1999 with a 6 foot slice of the tree serving as its memorial.
If you look about you this weekend, you are more than likely to see one of the many variety of oak trees that grow in our great nation. We are so fortunate to have such a majestic tree as one of our national symbols. It is another aspect of What IS Right With America
Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.