This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
The Oak is an ancient tree found in Preglacial beds in Norfolk and Suffolk, and also Interglacial and Neolithic beds. To-day it is found in the Arctic and N. Temperate Zones from the Atlas, Taurus, and Syria, up to the Arctic Circle. In Great Britain it is found everywhere except in Selkirk, Hebrides, and Shetlands, from Sutherland to the south coast, up to 1350 ft. in the Highlands. It is a native of Ireland and the Channel Islands.
The Oak is one of those trees which characterize a certain type of woodland, having a special ground association of its own. It is also largely planted up and down the country in hedgerows by the roadside as well as in the open fields. But it is native in many places where remnants of the old forests remain, especially in hilly districts, the strongholds in days gone by of the Druids, to whom it was sacred, many ancient trees bearing names connected with this ancient religious cult.
The tree is perhaps best known by its stout and lofty bole or base of the trunk. The stem is erect, branched, the branches ascending or spreading, never drooping.
Reaching a height of 150 ft., and having an enormous girth, up to 70 ft. in circumference, the Oak is one of the largest British trees. The Newland Oak, for instance, has a girth of 60 ft., the Cowthorpe Oak, Yorkshire, being 70 ft. The thick trunk, which is usually short, gives rise to several thick long arms, the lower often horizontal, the upper ascending and spreading, forming an elbow or angle, and thus giving it a twisted appearance. This arrangement makes the crown a semicircular one, and in this variety in the summer appearance the foliage is in dense masses, broken by the elbows of the branches, and at no distance from the ground. In the winter stage the irregular branching is well seen.
The resting buds have numerous pairs of scales or stipules of undeveloped leaves. The lateral buds are in clusters at the tip of the twigs. The lower buds are inactive for long periods. This causes the zigzag arrangement of branches. The leaves are lobed, spirally arranged, 4 in the tufts at the ends of branches. The leaves are stalked and have temporary stipules. The stalk is short, the blade is hairless, not tapered at the base. The leaves fall in November.
The Oak is a monoecious plant, and both male and female catkins are borne on the same shoot. The male on the dwarf shoots are pendent, and both male and female occur on terminal parts of the previous year's twigs. There is one stalkless female flower in the axils of the bract scales. The male catkin has many catkin scales. The male flowers have 5-7 united sepals, 5-12 stamens. The female inflorescence has fewer flowers (1-5), and has a distinct stalk with lateral flowers. The fruit, an acorn, is developed from a 1-seeded ovary, 5 of the ovules not developing. The cupule or cup has close overlapping scales. The acorns are distant. The three carpels are united with a three-chambered ovary and 2 ovules in each chamber. Five of the 6 ovules do not mature.
The tree may be 60 ft. high. It flowers in April and May. It is a deciduous tree, propagated by seed. Like other Cupuliferae the flower is pollinated by the wind. Each spike contains one female flower, which forms the acorn cup at the base, or a cluster of flowers. The male flowers hang in drooping catkins, with 10 projecting stamens.
The fruit or acorn when ripe drops, owing to its great weight, to the ground, and is later released from the cupule, or it may be carried by birds or animals to a distance as food, whilst being semi-detached at the end of a thin branch it is also blown to a distance by the wind.
The Oak is more or less confined to the hillier stony tracts of the country where it is native, and is partly a rock plant, partly a sand-loving plant, always growing, however, in a soil rich in humus, and most often on clay or loam.
The Dryad Fungus, Polyporus dryadeus, forms large brackets, sometimes a foot or more across, on the bark, and Fistulina hepatica, the " beefsteak fungus ", is also common on it.
Photo. H. Irving - Oak (quercus Robur, L.)
Neuroterus lenticularis forms the "spangle gall", Teras terminalis the " oak apple ", and some 50 other galls are formed upon it. The fungi attacking bark or leaves are numerous, belonging to the genera Diaporthe, Sphcerulina, Rosellinia, Dichcena, Sclerotinia, Bulgaria, Uredo, Lenzites, Hypholoma, Pholiota, Collybia, Dcedalea, Fomes, Polyporus, Fistulina, Hydnum, Corticium, Stereum, Tremella, etc.
Many insects find a livelihood upon the Oak, such as Lucanus cervus, Pseudococcus acris, Prionus corarius, Attelabus curculionides, Polydrusus micans, Orchestes quercus, Sco/ytus destructor, Dryocactes villosus, Trypodendron domesticum, Xyleborus, Neuroterus, Spathe-gaster, Aphilothrix, Andricus, Dryophanta, Biorhiza, Teras, Cynips,
Aspidiotus, Asterolecanium, Cossus, Orgyia, Pygcera, Tortrix, Cal-lipterus, Lachnus, Phylloxera, Diplosis, Lecanium.
Quercus, Pliny, is Latin for oak. Robur, Pliny, was a name for a certain kind of oak. Oak is from the A.S. de.
The Oak is called Aac, Acharne, Acorn, Ackern, Ackeron, Acorn-tree, Aik, Aik-tree, Akcorn, Ake, Akers, Ake-horn, Akernel, Akeron, Akker, Akkern, Akran, Akyr, Archarde, Atchern, Atchorn, Cups-and-Ladles, Cups-and-Saucers, Eike-tree, Frying Pans, Hatch-horn, Jove's Nuts, Knappers, Mace, Mast, Oak Atchern, Oak, Black, Durmast Oak, Ovest Pipes, Rump Trail Oke, Wuk, Yachraws, Yak, Yakker, Yeaker, Yek, Yik.
The name Pipes is given to the acorn-cup with stalk attached resembling a pipe, which children carry in their mouths to pretend they are smoking. The male catkins are called " The Trail " in the New Forest. Cups and Ladles, etc, is a name for the husks of the acorn, from their resemblance to these utensils.
On the 29th May children distinguish the reddish-coloured leaves as Girl's Oak, and the green leaves as Boy's Oak. Girls wear the former and boys the latter.
In Hants, a writer says: "The woodmen here talk of two kinds of Oak, which they call the Black and White Oak, but the only intelligible difference I could extract from their accounts is that the twigs of one float whilst those of the other sink when thrown into water! Some of the more observant, however, amongst them distinguish more clearly our two species; the Q. sessiliflora they call White Oak and Maiden Oak, as I have repeatedly ascertained." Durmast (Dunmast) Oak is so called from the acorns being sometimes of a red or dun colour. Oak Atchern is oak-berry. The pretty galls that grow upon the leaves so abundantly are called oak-berries, and the larger ones on the buds are, as is commonly the case, called oak-galls.
Death was announced formerly in some parts to the nearest oak, a tree around which many superstitions have gathered. Holes in oaks were doors through which spirits of the trees passed, and the pathways of elves, children being cured by contact with them, and passed through them. Dryads had their lives linked to a tree, which it was fatal to injure. It was considered unlucky to fell an Oak. Hence Oaks were used for marking boundaries of property.
The early Greek and Latin authors believed in the tree descent of man, and the Oak and Ash were supposed to have given rise to man. The whole superstructure of Druidism was based on tree worship, in which the Oak figured largely. Some even derive church or kirk from Quercus. Dodona was noted for its oak grove. The Oak was held to be of lightning origin, and sacred to Thor.
The Jew was said to be only able to settle where two oaks grew in the form of a cross. In many parts fairyland gathers around the Oak, and fairy dances were said to take place round its roots. Some were called Devil's Oaks. If seen in dreams it was a sign of long life, while to dream of an acorn foretold sickness. A man who abandons a good enterprise for a bad one was said " to cut down an oak and plant a thistle ". Several proverbs relate to the Oak, e.g.: " The willow will buy a horse before the oak will pay for a saddle." "The smallest axe may fell the largest oak." " Little strokes fell great oaks."
At Roman weddings oak boughs were symbols of fecundity. In order to commemorate the restoration of Charles II, oak leaves and gilded oak-apples were worn.
The Oak was said to have formed (like many other trees) the wood of which the Cross of Calvary was made, and a legend says when the Jews were in search of wood every tree split itself except the Oak. Oak trees planted at crossways were supposed to cure ague, and to cure gout if taken hold of with the repeating of a formula. Oak leaves formed the civic crown, which was the highest honour, and accorded to Julius Caesar.
Acorns were formerly dried, roasted, and used for making bread. The bark is one of the most important of tanning materials. Oak sawdust was used to dye fustian, and to make colours of drab and brown. The oak-apples are used in dyeing and for ink. Oak bark after it has been used for tanning is used for dressing the soil. Formerly acorns were in great request for feeding swine, oak forests being described as of so many hogs.
Essential Specific Characters: 282. Quercus Robur, L. - Tree, with stout horizontal or ascending branches, leaves obovate, sinuate, lobed, male flowers in loose pendent catkins, female solitary, below, fruit an acorn.