Oak (Quercus robur)
The English Oak (Quercus robur) is one of the best known trees in the UK. It's a majestic, deciduous tree with beautiful leaves and acorns and it is a symbol of strength and endurance.
Useful info about Oak trees
|Latin Name||Quercus robur|
|Type||Deciduous (loses its leaves in winter)|
|Height||Can grow up to 20+ metres (65+ feet)|
|Spread||The branches can spread out to 20+ metres (65+ feet)|
|Soil Types Preferred||Chalk, Clay, Limestone, Loam, Sand|
|Locations Suitable||Farmland, Gardens, Parks|
|Flowers||Small catkins in spring|
|Fruit||Acorns in autumn|
|Celtic Tree Month||June 10 - July 7|
Oak trees can live for hundreds of years, their trunks growing to 15 metres (50 feet) around.
The oak is a large, long-Iived, deciduous tree found across most of lowland Britain.
In Britain oak trees provide support, shelter and food to more different living things that any other tree. From mosses, fungi and lichens to wasps, butterflies, squirrels and birds.
Oak trees are broad-crowned with many, large branches growing upward from the same point.
Oak trees may live for a thousand years and trunks in excess of 4 metres in diameter (over 38 feet round) are known, with the majority of trees reaching a height of 50 - 70 feet (15m to 21m) tall.
The leaves have 3 - 5 deep, uneven lobes on each side.
The bark is grey with knobbly ridges.
The flowers, male catkins and female spikes, are only about 1 inch (2.5cm) long and pale green.
The fruit, the acorn, is a nut surrounded at the base by a cup-like covering. One to several acorns are borne on a slender stalk.
The common oak is a pioneer tree, and its seedlings invade open grassland rather than shady forests.
The Oak Family
The oak (Quercus) is a large genus of more than 450 species of monoecious, deciduous or evergreen trees, native mainly to the northern temperate zone.
Cork is a fire-resistant outer bark that can be peeled off a living cork oak (quercus suber) tree every nine years (once the tree is 25 years old).
It is used for wine bottle stoppers, and the lesser grades provide insulation and floor tiles. The lifespan of a cork oak is 150-200 years, and an average tree produces enough cork for about 4,000 bottle stoppers per harvest.
The Sessile Oak (quercus petraea) is very similar to the common oak, but can be distinguished by its rather large, long- stalked leaves, and its sessile fruits (hence the name). It is deciduous, and native to western, central and southeastern Europe, and Asia Minor.
The holm oak (Q. ilex) is a large and majestic evergreen tree that can grow up to 60ft (18m) in height. It has corrugated bark and ovate to lanceolate leaves which are leathery, entire or toothed, and shining dark green above and greyish-green beneath. The fruit cup encloses about half of the rather short acorn. Native to the Mediterranean, it has also been cultivated in the warmer parts of the British Isles, such as Cornwall, in the south-west.
Oak timber is legendary for its strength and appearance. Once used for ship and boat building, oak is now mainly used to make furniture and panelling. However, it has numerous other uses too.
Leather - the bark of some species also yields dye and tannins, which are used in the leather industry.
Food & Drink - in pre-Classical Greece, acorns formed part of the staple diet of the human population. Many Native American tribes still roast and grind acorns for use in bread or to make a beverage. Acorns were also made into ersatz coffee in many European countries during the two world wars.
Natural Healing - common oak bark, which is strongly astringent because of its tannin content, has been traditionally taken in a tea to combat diarrhea and dysentry, and also used externally to treat hemorrhoids, inflamed gums, wounds and eczema.
Any uses for trees or tree extracts, whether edible or medicinal, have not been tried or tested by EFORESTS.
Please take caution and seek proper advice before attempting any recipes or medicinal extracts from any of the trees listed on our site.
Culture and Symbolism
Oak trees are believed to represent strength, endurance, sovereignty, rulership and power.
Apart from its agricultural importance, the oak also had associations with war among all cultures from ancient times until fairly recently.
For example, the oak's thunder god was invoked to use his power of lightning to strike an enemy, or its tough wood was used in the construction of fortifications or battleships. In the 17th and 18th centuries the oak rose to military fame once more, when the nations of western Europe felled their oak forests to build large fleets.
However, the oak itself is not a "warrior". It provides a habitat for over 500 species of insects and other invertebrates, not to mention many birds and mammals.
Together with the long list of economic benefits it bestows, the oak seems to have a rather caring, paternal quality. It is not surprising then, that the ancient Gauls and the Romans associated the oak with Mars Silvanus, the god of agriculture and healing.
The oak was an important presence in the farmyard, where it had a nurturing role. It was with reluctance that the oak god resorted to arms, but Mars was nevertheless eventually transformed into a war deity and the cultural history of the oak reflects this,transition from the plough to the sword.
Across the whole of Bronze-Age Europe, Indo-European cultures associated the oak tree with their weather gods, particularly those of thunder and lightning: because of its strong electrical currents, its deep tap root and its tendency to grow above subterranean watercourses, the oak is indeed struck by lightning more often than other trees.
The oak was sacred to sky gods such as the Slavic and Baltic Perun(as), the Norse Thor, the Saxon Donar, and the Celtic Taranis. The main significance of weather gods lies in their effects on the harvest, which was essential to human survival. Zeus (the Roman Jupiter) was a lightning god who became the principal deity in ancient Greece. His career started in the famous oracular grove of Dodona, and his tree was the oak.
In later centuries and further north, for example in Great Britain and Germany, Silvanus frequently manifested as the Green Man or Herne the Hunter. Two important legendary figures associated with the oak are King Arthur, who gathered his knights around the Round Table (which, it is said, was made of oak), and Robin Hood who lived among the oak trees of Sherwood Forest. Both King Arthur and Robin Hood embody a balance of the two sides of oak lore: the caring, paternal qualities and the ability to fight ruthlessly when justice demands it.
However, over the last few centuries the significance of the oak in ancient cult practices has been vastly over-emphasized. In the Middle Ages, European translators of foreign manuscripts tended to call every significant tree an "oak" (just as every red fruit was to them an "apple"). Thus, the "oaks" mentioned in the Bible have to be read not as oaks, but as "sacred trees".
Although the sweet acorns of the live oak, (quercus rotundifolia), were a vital part of the diet in ancient Greece, the oak itself was sometimes elusive, which is because the "acorns of Zeus" also referred to other edible nuts, such as walnuts and sweet chestnuts. Roman writers often confused drys, the Greek word for oak, with drus, meaning "sacred tree" - the etymological closeness of these words hints at possible prehistoric associations between the oak and divinities.
The modern, unjustified cliché that expresses a strong connection between Celtic druids and the oak actually owes its existence to Pliny the Elder (c.23 - c.79 AD), a Roman military commander and administrator, who wrote books on natural history. It was he who conjured up the image of the druids of Gaul cutting mistletoe from oaks with golden sickles.
Pliny was not even present in Gaul and had only heard a report of this practice. He even stated that it happened throughout Gaul, completely ignoring the fact that tribes such as the Averni ("Alder People") or Eburoni ("Yew People") held different trees sacred. Pliny also suggested that the very word "druid" may have derived from the Greek drys - which it did not.
The Oak tree is associated with the thunder gods : Perun(as) (Slavic, Baltic), Taara (Estonian, Finnish), Thor (Norse), Donar (Saxon), Taranis (Celtic), Zeus (Greek), Jupiter (Roman)
Oak trees are astrologically associated with the planet Mars.
Key Dates for the Oak Tree
February 1st - Brigantia
St Brigid (or St Bride), who had her origins in the Celtic goddess Brigid, had links with the oak. Her abbey was founded in Kildare (Ireland), a name which derives from Cilldara the Church of the Oak.
March 21st - Spring Equinox
The Romans consecrated the month of March to Mars silvanus, the god of agriculture and healing, who was associated with the oak through the age-old practice of pasturing livestock in the oak woods.
The week after the fifth Sunday after Easter - Rogationtide
In medieval England, oak trees traditionally marked the boundaries of parishes and during Rogationtide parishioners would walk around the parish boundaries and listen to preachers under the oak trees, which became known as "GospeI Oaks'.
May 1st - Beltane
Celtic festival celebrating the beginning of summer.
May 29th - Royal Oak Day (UK)
Legend has it that King Charles II took refuge in an oak tree after his defeat in the Battle of Worcester in 1651. The tree became known as the Royal Oak and after Charles' restoration to the throne on May 29th 1660, which was also his birthday, this date was celebrated as Royal Oak Day
June 21st - Summer Solstice (Litha)
The Anglo-Saxon festival of Litha was a celebration of fertility. The oak was worshipped through its association with the thunder god Thunor, who was invoked to bring rain and so aid the growth of crops.
In early August, Oak trees produce new, leafy shoots known as "Lamilias shoots'. They are so named after the Christian festival of Lammas (which was based on the Celtic festival of Lughnasad) on August 1st.
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