Oak trees are attractive hardwood trees generally known for their sturdy wood. Their botanical name, Quercus, means “beautiful tree.” Oak tree uses vary from timber and furniture to shade and medicine in nature.
Oak Tree Characteristics
One of the classic oak tree characteristics is the acorn. Acorns are the seeds of oak trees, and they tend to have caps. The nuts themselves can be rounded or pointy, depending on the type of species.
Oaks tend not to produce acorns until they are quite mature. The English oak produces acorns when it reaches 40 years of age. Northern red oaks produce acorns between 20 and 25 years of age.
Some oak varieties have distinctly lobed leaves. Red oaks have more pointed lobes and bristles, whereas white oaks have rounded lobes. White oaks can reach 100 feet in height.
The formations known as galls can be found on some oaks during summer and autumn. These galls hold insect eggs and protect larvae, while not harming the oaks.
Types of Oak Trees
You can find numerous types of oak trees around the world. In North America, some common species include northern red oak (Quercus rubra), white oak (Quercus alba) and coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia).
Other types of oak trees include overcup oak, sawtooth oak, scarlet oak, bur oak and pin oak among others. In England, English oak (Quercus robur) is the most common variety.
Oak Tree Uses: Timber
Northern red oaks are used for many commercial products such as fence posts, railroad ties, floors and cabinets. They are not typically used for barrels because of their porous quality.
White oaks are renowned for their highly durable wood, and they are prized for furniture, flooring and cabinets. White oaks makes sturdy barrels and fence posts, as well as firewood.
English oaks make a very fine, hard timber used in furniture and architecture. They were used as ship-building material in the past.
Medicinal and Other Oak Tree Uses
Native Americans used northern red oak bark for treating ailments and wounds. White oaks were used for various ailments such as diarrhea and asthma, and they were a source of antiseptics and washes.
In other regions in the past, English oak leaves and acorns and bark were used to treat diarrhea and other maladies.
English oak acorns were also once used for making bread flour, prior to the production of wheat. One of the more interesting oak tree characteristics is the presence of tannin in bark. The bark was used for tanning leather for thousands of years.
Because of their typically large canopies, oak trees are also valued for shade.
Food for Animals
In addition to uses for people, oaks provide sanctuary and food for many kinds of animals. Oak forests provide habitats for many native species and are therefore important to ecosystems.
English oaks provide homes for many insects, which in turn provide a food source for birds. Badgers and deer feed off the trees' acorns. Oak tree flowers and buds provide food for caterpillars, and invertebrates live off of the decaying oak leaf litter.
Both the northern red oak and white oak provide food for mammals and birds. Deer, blue jays, turkeys, rodents, raccoons, squirrels and bears use parts of oak trees for food. Still other birds like barn owls and wood ducks use cavities in oaks to make nests.
Insects feed off of leaves, bark, wood, acorns and twigs. Bees make beehives in some hollow oaks. Some animals that eat acorns hide them to eat another time, and by doing so they essentially plant new oak forests from any forgotten acorns.
About the Author
J. Dianne Dotson is a science writer with a degree in zoology/ecology and evolutionary biology. She spent nine years working in laboratory and clinical research. A lifelong writer, Dianne is also a content manager and science fiction and fantasy novelist. Dianne features science as well as writing topics on her website, jdiannedotson.com.
oak image by Marek Kosmal from Fotolia.com