When Romie was trying to sell me on buying our house back in 1977, one of the things he used as leverage was the fact that there were three large oak trees on the property, with yet another on the neighbors' property that was so close, it looked like it was part of ours.
Though the house was only two years old, the property used to be part of a woods that had been cleared quite a bit for building. These trees had undoubtedly been there for at least a couple hundred years, based on the size of their trunks and how tall they were, especially the one in the front yard. There was also a Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) and a couple of maple trees, though those were smaller.
I loved the trees too - and the house - so it didn't take much convincing for me to agree we should buy the house on its one-acre lot.
Over time, we planted trees of our own - Maples, Washington Hawthorns, Sweet Gum, Cleveland Pears, 'Red Delicious' apple, Scotch pine, Blue Spruce, Dogwoods, Bald Cypress, Ginkgo, a Juniper, Dawn Redwood, various Japanese Maples, Sumac, Austrian Pine, Tulip Poplars, River Birch, Buckeye, Cedar, Weeping Willow, Dwarf Peach, Serviceberry, and a couple that I know I'm forgetting.
Though the majestic oaks are by far the largest of the trees here, they are also the messiest. They don't lose all their leaves in the fall; they lose their leaves all fall, and winter too. In fact, by the time spring comes, you can still see dead, brown leaves on the branches, waiting for the fresh new green ones to push them off.
The fruit of the oak tree is the acorn and some years the trees have a bumper crop of them, like this year. Last year, there were plenty of acorns, but this year there are thousands and thousands. They are so thick in the yard below the trees that you have to be careful while walking, so you don't fall from your feet rolling right out from under you. On hard surfaces, where they can roll after they've fallen from the trees, it's even worse.
As we sit in the house, we can hear the nuts falling on the roof and on a windy day when they fall faster, it almost sounds like hail. The cats love them, because they make the best toys to bat around. I've been bopped on the head a couple of times, as they fell from the branches above me.
So why do the oaks produce so many acorns one year and not the next? It's a natural cycle they go through every three or four years. We've noticed this on our own, and scientists have theorized that it is related to an interaction with woodland wildlife who eat the acorns.
Acorns are a food source for mice, deer, rats, chipmunks, and of course, squirrels. In fact, just about any foraging mammal will eat them. The theory is that the trees overproduce them periodically in order to increase the chances of some acorns being left to sprout and become seedlings.
We've got more than one kind of oak on our property. The largest ones are bur oaks (Quercus macrocarpa), which have the coolest fringed acorn 'hats'. We've also got one we believe is a pin oak (Quercus palustris) that my dad and Romie dug from a nearby woods shortly after we moved here. It's the only one in our yard that turns a nice color in the fall. It becomes red, while all the rest just turn brown.
Identifying oak trees can be difficult, especially if you're trying to distinguish between pin, scarlet, black, or northern red. The Arbor Day Foundation has an online guide for identifying trees that can be helpful.
Another fun thing to do is to estimate the age of your trees. Using this formula, we have estimated the age of the largest oak tree here to be approximately 200-250 years old. Oh, if that tree could talk, it might tell us of the Ottawa tribe of Native Americans that once lived here, or the clearing of the Great Black Swamp for farming. It has been struck by lightning numerous times, as evidenced by the bulging ridges running down its trunk.
a lovely garden in a seed,
and a giant oak in an acorn.”
~ William Arthur Ward