Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday's Trees- Burr Oak, Quercus macrocarpa

A couple weeks ago we took a drive to the next county to check on one of our antique clocks. Most of our outings turn into adventures, this is no exception. We came across a sign that indicated an Indian grave site and we thought we would check it out.

We never found the exact place but did find a sign telling about the Cherokee in this area. Historical markers tell the tale. Interesting link.

ANYHOW, while we were driving around we saw this neat old church. After we looked at the church (from the truck) I had Charlie drive around the front of the driveway again. Something caught my eye. It was this fern, growing in the tree, green! in the beginning of February. I took pictures of the fern and tried to research it, thinking it was a tree fern.  It wasn't so I did what anyone would do, send the pictures to my friendly fern expert. This fern is an epiphyte, growing on the tree but not taking nutrients from the tree. It is a Resurrection fern, Polypodium polypodioides. Amazingly it is hardy zones 6- 11. Floridata has some good information about this cool fern.  Thanks Jim!

I know what you are thinking, this is a tree posting, where is the tree?
Well the fern was in the tree!! The tree was an oak, kind of gnarly...probably close to 100 years old.  Turns out this was a Bur(r) oak, Quercus macrocarpa.  The bark is gray to brown and in older trees the scaly bark becomes vertical longer ridges.  In making my identification I wasn't sure (100%) about my first assessment that it was a Bur Oak as the twigs have corky wings, similar to the Sweetgum or Winged Elm.
From the photos I had, none of the twigs showed signs of corky ridges. The leaves had rounded lobes, check.
The Bur Oak is in the white oak family, rounded lobes. The leaves I am sharing are from last year, those who hang on to the end of winter. In the spring/summer I will go back and get some green leaf photos. The leaves cluster at the branch tips, another white oak characteristic.

The tree is monoecious and the fruit is one of its most striking features. The acorn is a good food source for the animals and birds of its forest. Here is what I first saw of this noted fruit--
Not impressed? Just look at the size of this acorn!

This tree doesn't usually produce seed until it is about 35 years old, with the best years between the ages 75- 150 years.  It can continue to produce seed/ fruit well into the 400th  year.  Pretty amazing. 

The mature size of this tree is 80 feet but there are some larger ones in the Ohio River valley.  It is a slow grower and lives upwards of 400 years.  The shape of the mature tree is wide and spreading canopy and is a wonderful shade tree.The native range is the Eastern part of North America, though it was planted across the Great Plains.  It is grown in various sights, depending soils, it could be a bottom lands tree or uplands or limestone ridges.  The Silvics Manual has a detailed account of growing conditions.  My other 'go-to' reference is VTech dendrology publications.

The wood is prized for lumber uses, often sold as white oak. 

 The tree is a native though not really one of the south.  It is hardy zones 3-8.  After sourcing the fern to my friend in Virginia, I took the acorn to my Cooperative Extension agent, a forester.  He confirmed it to be a Bur Oak.  I was confused as its native range does not include South Carolina.  He said either Indian migration could have collected acorns from native growth.  Another possibility was that since the tree (and some of its friends) were planted in front of this church, so perhaps they were planted as specimen trees.  Either way, they created a wonderful frontage to this old church. 

Next week, taking a tree break.  Stay tuned for more to come.

words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.


  1. What a cool tree. I'd love it if the best years of my life were still to come at 75 to 100 years old! The acorns are huge. It looks so pretty next that neat old church.

  2. incredible tree..love those acorns and old trees are just so impressive, stately and often missed by people...glad you found this one to share

  3. Now that's what I call an acorn... Wonderful! Lovely fern too.

  4. What an incredible tree. To host the fern and provide such great food for the wildlife. I adore oaks. Those are the biggest acorns I've ever seen!

  5. Such a grand specimen! I cannot believe the size of those acorns either.
    Every week I come here for my "tree lesson." :)

  6. What a majestic tree. I love it even tho I hadn't heard or seen one when I was a kid at home. A dear friend sent me a couple & I couldn't get over how big they were. I use them in my Fall decorations.
    The history link you included is fantastic. I shall have to go back & read all of it. Love that past history.

  7. Ah, my favorite tree of all! Bur Oaks are native to the prairie, so they are quite common here in Illinois. I have a very large one at the very front of our yard, and I once tried to determine its age using a guideline on a website I found where you measure its circumference about 4 feet from the ground. If I measured it correctly, it's at least 200 years old, maybe closer to 300, so it's definitely my prized tree. I do have some photos of it on various older posts, but a photo just doesn't do it justice.

    I wasn't sure about identifying it correctly either, but a friend who is somewhat of a tree expert confirmed the i.d. by looking at the acorns. Their "caps" are much larger than other oaks.

    Thanks for sharing this magnificent tree, Janet!

  8. So excited to read this post Janet! I have a Bur Oak in my front yard. It's the most beautiful tree and my pride & joy. I've been wondering why it doesn't produce acorns tho and now I know. I need to wait another 20 years!!! Darn it. They are so awesome.
    I just had the tree people here shaping it, cutting the dead wood out, etc. It does seem to hold onto it's leaves way longer than anything else around.

  9. Janet,

    Enjoyed this post. I always get excited when I find these acorns! The fern we saw lots of them in Wilmington a few weeks back.

  10. What an interesting post on the Bur Oak! And My, What a huge acorn! There is lots of Resurrection Fern on trees in our area. We have a small patch on a Sweet Gum in our backyard. With no rain, it dries up and looks dead. Put a little water on it and it pops back to life. I have posted on this fern in the past over at In the Garden. Funny thing, my hubby knew what it was and had to tell me about it. Ha…

  11. I've heard of Bur Oaks but haven't seen the acorns before. Amazing! Love the acorn nest too. And what a lovely church!

  12. Burr Oaks are one of the main native trees here- we lost lots of giant ones during the Hurricane Ike that blew into Ohio. They are magnificent trees.

  13. Don't know the Burr Oak. Great info. That's a pretty church in the last photo.

  14. I love oak trees especially old ones. I love that fern,too. I have it growing on a live oak tree, and in the last year or so, it has started showing up on the pine trees. I love when it is all dried and curled up it to hit it with a spray from the hose and in a short time it is all green and leafy again.

    Always Growing

  15. Acorns and oak leaves are two of my favorite plant motifs. I have always admired them as motifs in wood carving especially.
    I must say that I have never seen a Bur Oak before. That is some acorn! The fern you found growing in the tree was so pretty and delicate looking.

  16. It looks as if the Queen is exploring her new realm. The oak is nice, but that church quite beautiful.

  17. What a cool old tree, love the fern growing on it, how interesting it that. Thanks for stopping by and thinking of me. :)

  18. Not familiar with this one but saw a lot of the ferns growing on our trip down south. Those acorns are a lot better looking than our regular ones.

  19. Greetings from Southern California

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    God bless you :-)


  20. Catherine, yes, wouldn't that be great? I love this old church.

    Donna, thanks for visiting. We have a lot of old gnarly trees around here. I do love finding unusual ones.

    Janet, I agree! What a biggie.

    Tina, me too!

    Rosey, Glad you come by! No lesson this week though. Come back next week.

    Lola, These acorns would be really nice to use in decorations.

    Rose, Glad to have a tree that you like! What a beauty. Fun to measure yours and figure out how old it is.

    Kathleen, Well now you know! Trees are so interesting about when they start producing.

    Randy, think this is the first time I have seen this kind of fern.

    Skeeter, I imagine there are a lot of ferns in your area. They are pretty cool.

    Sweetbay, I was amazed at the size of the acorns.

    Ilona, they are magnificent indeed!

    Cameron, It is a pretty church.

    Jan, Old oaks are sure neat, love the structure.

    Jennifer, mine too! I hadn't seen Bur Oaks before and these acorns are amazing.

    Les, thanks!

    Racquel, sure thing! Missed having you around.

    Chris, they are certainly neat looking acorns.

    Ron, thanks so much for stopping by. I will check out your blog. tnanks.


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