The Awesomeness of Oak Trees
Like many things in nature, the oak tree is a natural wonder that we often take for granted. Those of us
who live within its broad, natural range (which spans the whole world, since there are over 500 species of oak trees!) are familiar with the majestic tree’s scattered acorns, jagged leaves, and massive heights. Some of us are familiar with oak trees through the frequent appearances that they make as symbols in jewellery pieces and company logos. Yet, the oak tree’s impact on our lives far surpasses its aesthetic and cultural appeal.
Throughout history, oak trees have maintained an enduring relationship with the health of human populations and natural ecosystems. As a keystone species, oaks provide the resources that many living things need to survive. Read on to find out how just how important this noble tree is for our world!
Rooted in Culture
For many years, oak trees have occupied an important symbolic role in cultures around the world. Individuals from Nordic and Celtic cultures considered the oak tree to represent fertility, life, strength, and victory. They considered the tree’s acorns to symbolize longevity, strength, and honour. In Europe, oak trees were considered to be the kings of the forest due to their massive size and strong wood. In Ancient Rome, oak leaves symbolized success; Roman commanders were fitted with crowns made from oak leaves during the victory parades that followed their successful achievements. In many cultures, oak trees are considered to be healing trees, as their bark can be used to make remedies for burns, cuts, and infections.
The oak tree has also shaped culture through its contributions to the arts. Oak trees supplied artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, musicians such as Johann Sebastian Bach, and medieval manuscript writers with the dark gall ink that they needed to create their works. This ink was created by drying and crushing the eggs of Gall Wasps, which are found on oak trees. Oak trees also enabled architects to create some of the world’s most famous buildings. For example, the timber roof in Westminster Hall, a structure in England which is considered to be one of the greatest architectural works of art from the Middle Ages, was made from 660 tons of oak. To further illustrate the importance of oak trees in the world’s architecture, between the 4th and 18th century, most of Europe’s buildings were made out of oak. Oak was also an essential resource for Vikings, who used the equivalent of 60 acres of oak trees to build each one of their sturdy ships. Oak also played a role in modern architecture through its charcoal form. As charcoal, oaks powered the machines that created iron and bronze based objects such as door hinges and window screens, and even melted the silica that created glass windows. Some of these charcoal-powered machines even played an important role in the creation of the bells of Notre Dame while others created the swords of medieval knights and the crowns of kings and queens!
The Giving Tree
With its strong exterior, massive size, and multiple uses, it is no surprise that the oak tree promotes the well-being of countless living things in our world.
For animals, oak trees provide shelter, food, protection from predators, and resources for reproductive activities. Squirrels scurry up the trees’ branches to build comfy nests for their families. Bees join them, building their hives in the trees’ mighty trunks. Down below, forest floors covered in oak leaves are teeming with life as insects, centipedes, and spiders stay cool beneath oak leaves. Squirrels and jays hide acorns from the tree underground, while the worms that live between oak tree roots nutrify the soil and help the oak tree to grow.
Oak trees don’t just benefit animal wellbeing. In fact, some sources estimate that oak trees have supported human populations for over 6000 years! For example, balanophagy (the act of eating acorns) has kept individuals healthy throughout history. Recent excavations of prehistorical sites have revealed massive quantities of charred acorns, suggesting that these acorns may have been consumed by early humans. Oak trees have also sustained human wellbeing through their wood, which has been used to fuel fires and build many of the structures and objects that we use every day.
Along with giving to earth’s organisms, oak trees also eliminate harmful entities. Most notably, oak trees remove carbon dioxide from the air during photosynthesis. Oak trees also produce the oxygen that we need to breathe. In fact, it is estimated that 1 acre of oak trees removes an estimated 2 tons of carbon dioxide from the air per year!
Whether supporting animal life or human life, oaks truly are “giving trees”.
Climate Change Hero
These strong, resilient trees can live for up to 400 years. Due to their strength, longevity, and excellent abilities to provide important resources, oak trees will play an important role in helping us to protect our planet. Indeed, the oak tree’s adaptability as a species that spans the planet will enable it to withstand the turbulence of climate change so that it can promote living, giving, and thriving in natural ecosystems and human societies for years to come. Oaks are marvelous trees that certainly live up to the symbolic associations that they have inspired!
Oak trees are found throughout the world. Do you have any favourite oak trees where you live? Let us know in the comments!