The Mighty Oaks Trees of England

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

If ever a tree epitomized endurance in the English countryside it is the English oak Quercus robur { the genus name drives from two Celtic words "quer" indicate fine +" cuez" a tree ,while the species name indicates hard wood} . These mighty arboreal structures are mighty in stature and mighty in their use to mankind. From as far back in our history as the Druids { Druid loosely translated means tree-lover}, they have been held in high esteem. The Druids planted oak trees in great numbers. beneath their copious boughs they held rites and even local courts were they administered justice according to their laws at the time.

Also in the depths of our history is the fact that Charles the second, who's army was all but annihilated by Cromwell's Roundheads was forced to hide in an oak tree for many hours while his adversaries searched for him without success. Later the trees were often referred to as Royal Oak, a name that is still retained in the names of public houses and inns. It was the mighty oaks that were utilized in the building of the " wooden walls of England", a reference to the wooden sailing ships that defeated the Armada and participated in many other battles. It is estimated that it took a thousand mature oaks to build each one.

They have been used medicinally and for culinary purposes, especially the fruit of the tree -the acorn. Studies have revealed that a mature oak is capable of producing over 50,000 acorns. These fruits are of tremendous importance to the wildlife of Britain, where they are taken and often buried by creatures such as the jay, squirrel, wood pigeon, certain woodpeckers, mice and other small mammals. Many of the buried acorns are not recovered and therefore germinate, thus many creatures help in the distribution of the species.

In England their are two native species of oak the other being Quercus petraea the sessile oak { often referred to as the Durmast oak}. When the acorns are in evidence on the tree it is one of the best times of differentiating the species. The acorn of the English oak are borne on long stalks called peduncles { hence the trees alternative name of Pendunculate oak } while those of the sessile oak sit directly on the twig { sessile indicating stalk less}. Conversely the leaf of the English oak has hardly any stalk while those of the sessile oak have a more prominent stalk.

ACORNS--have fed animals such as pigs for centuries which has been well documented but they have also been utilised by man for culinary purposes. They were once roasted and ground up into fine grains that was used as a passable substitute for coffee. They were even used to make a bread once they had first been boiled, then when dried and crushed into a powder which was then used as a flour.

MEDICINALLY-- In archaic times many parts of the oak tree was employed for medicinal use, but most have fell out of favour, save for the bark which is used in by herbalist in the preparations to counteract haemorrhage's being of an astringent nature. Like other astringents { binding} it is thought to counteract the symptoms of diarrhoea and dysentery. These were administered in the form of a decoction. This decoction was also used as a gargle for throat infections and to stop the bleeding of gums. Oak bark was also dried out and crushed into a fine powder that was employed as a snuff for clearing the head of catarrh.

Components of the English oak

Billederafnorden  {1800's}
Billederafnorden {1800's}

Above. Winter twigs. Below Marble oak galls


Under Attack Again--

Other structures are also commonly associated with the oak tree, especially oak galls, one in particular the "knopper gall" has become widespread in England during the last few years. They are caused by gall wasps, tiny insects that resemble thin flies than a wasp. The wasp associated with this affliction is Andricus quercuscalicis.

The abnormal acorns affected, develop during the summer months and may easily be replaced by a virulent growth of the gall in the cup spreading over the fruit leaving a bizarre knobbly growth in its wake. Once the cup and growth fall away from the tree in late autumn they will remain until spring when a female wasp will emerge through a tiny hole at the top of the gall. In the north of England this type of gall was uncommon until about 10 years ago but is now an annual feature on many trees.

A more common gall associated with the tree is the " marble oak gall ". These are often referred to as oak apples a popular misconception for the latter are of a much greater size at up to 5cm in diameter. The oak marble gall is approximately 18-20mm in diameter and are as the common name suggests the size of a marble. When these galls begin to form they are of a green colour,however, it is not long before they turn to a grey-brown colour and very hard to the touch. The gall is caused by the gall wasp, Andricus kollari. The grub develops inside this protective globe until they emerge as adults from a tiny hole. Another peculiarity of this gall is the length of time it remains on the tree after it has been vacated. It can be several years before they finally disintegrate.

WHAT OF THE TREE ITSELF--- There is a disease known commonly as the " sudden oak death" which has cut large swathes through the forests of America's west coast since the mid 1990's. Here in England we had been fortunate not to be under attack. that changed in 2001 when the culprit responsible-a fungus like organism Phytophthora ramorum was discovered attacking a small number of trees not native to our shores. The spores of P.ramorum are spread by rain drops and in the case of garden centres and nurseries by way of sprinklers, for this disease can affect many ornamental trees and shrubs. Indeed. it was very likely that it arrived here, via ornamental imports.

Studies have revealed that p.ramorum is at times restricted to the shoots and foliage of healthy trees, however, should the host be weakened by some injury, whether occurring naturally or by mechanical means, allowing the disease to get under the bark it becomes a much more serious threat. The countless spores that infect the tree may well spread throughout its system and the tree will eventually die. A classic symptom of an infected trunk is knobbly growths that emit a dark coloured sticky sap .

A contingency plan which includes destroying all infected imports at nurseries has helped to keep the spread at bay. However, the research department of the Forestry Commission have now found a more potent strain which they have initially called P. kernovii has been discovered growing along side P.ramorum which has attacked native oaks.

It was recorded in the south west of England and at a nursery in my neck of the woods -north west England. All affected specimens are destroyed. According to Dr.Stephanie Pain when the two grow together in close proximity , hybrids may well occur which are more aggressive than either parent. She went on to state " there is a worrying precedent. In 1993 alder trees {Alnus } growing along England's rivers began to die. In 1999, the culprit was identified as a hybrid between two introduced alien phytophthoros, since then at least 20% of English alders have died."

So the biggest threat to England's mighty oaks since the days of the Armada { who's sailors were told to burn down oak forests had they won the battle} may well be lurking undetected somewhere in the English countryside, and its not just oaks at under threat many of our native trees and shrubs mat also be assaulted.

THE English oak

England's finest
England's finest

Sudden Oak Death -update

JANUARY 2011----20,000 trees have been felled iN Somerset to try and prevent the spread of the disease which is spreading rapidly in England. The bad news for the Forestry Commission is that the disease has now affected other trees such as the larch. ten thousand larch trees have been felled in the Quantock Hills in woodland run by the National Trust. it is estimated that a further 50,000 trees will have to be felled in a near by plantation. The disease affects over 2,000 hectares in the south west of England and is making headway In other regions particularly in the south of the country and south Wales.  The spread of the disease to other species such as Larch and rhododendron is a worrying development.

Disease updates July 2013

A mystery disease is now threatening England's oak trees. A disease that causes them to bleed to death. The Government have set a side over £1 million pounds to tackle it. Thousands of trees have already been felled and the bark striped off and burned in an attempt to prevent the disease spreading to other currently healthy trees.

It is thought that oak trees that are 50 years of age or older are most likely to be attacked. The disease is diagnosed by dark ' weeping' patches on the trunks and limbs of older trees. Once the disease takes hold it can kill the tree within four years. Researchers and scientists are in a race against time in order to stop this disease.

James McDonald from Bangor University stated that--" It is affecting older trees, some of them hundreds of years old, and whatever is behind it it is destroying something that has been here for so long, so loved, and is difficult if not impossible to replace. It is a very complicated issue, it could involve new bacteria that have been isolated from the lesions on the stem or the Oak Jewel Beetle, we are looking at their involvement, but both could be passive bystanders, we just don't know!"

Dr. John Morgan, head of Forestry Commission's Plant health Service stated that " We are doing everything possible to protect our trees. Studies have revealed that most of the losses so far have been on National Trust land with many trees on their estate at Blickling Hall , Norfolk { East Anglia } affected. Other trees in Shropshire are also affected at Attingham Park.

Watch this space for updates on this disease. Also see Ash die back, in my hub The Tall and Handsome Flowering Ash Tree.

August 2013- Acute Oak Decline

Acute Oak Decline symptoms mentioned above {Stem bleeding} seems to be on the increase. The cause of the problem seems to complex involving multiple agents. Research is being carried out by the Forestry Commission to try and find an answer to this problem. The Government has allocated £1.1million for the research.

Early investigations have found that the beetle,Agrilus bigutattus { Buprested beetle } is usually found with various fungi and bacteria present on the trees affected. Studies are underway to elucidate the roles these organisms play in the role of decline condition of the Oak.

Watch this space!

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Comments 19 comments

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author


Hi Devika , oak trees are for sure beautiful trees. Glad you liked the hub and thank you for your kind comments. Best wishes to you.

DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

THE MIGHTY OAKS TREES OF ENGLAND somehow I missed this hub and Oak trees are so beautiful I have the Black Oak and have started picking acorns for pigs it is such an enjoyable part of my day thought the leaves are allover he place I like having my yard a bit untidy Autumn is my best time of the year. Great and always an educational one. Voted up, useful interesting, and shared.

Peter Bond 4 years ago

Thought you might be interested in viewing photographs of an Oak tree behind my house taken throughout the year.



D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Denise Handlon, nice to meet you, thank you for your visit and for leaving your kind and appreciated comments.You are so right about trees being beautiful and they are always worth commenting on. Best wishes to you.

Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

I loved this hub. The oak is probably the tree I have the most connection with, however, I love trees in general and have a few books. My kids would laugh at me when they were younger b/c I'd always comment when I saw a 'good looking' tree.

I enjoy your hub titles and hope to return to read more. Thanks for the great hub.

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Thank you to every one who has taken the time to leave a comment on The Mighty Oaks of England it is much appreciated.

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

WOW, Mark what can I say I am over whelmed by your comments. I try to share the knowledge I have and if I succeed that is reward enough. Thank you my friend best wishes to you.

markbennis 5 years ago

Hi D.A.L it’s been some time but I have come around again and I’m star struck, at the level and professionalism of your great works.

Again I find myself reading and learning from a great master at work, a great source of information and you deserve a place in history at least wiki.

Keep up the great work you are a star, all the best mark...

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

stars439, Thank you your kind comments are appreciated. Best wishes and happy holiday to you.

stars439 profile image

stars439 5 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

The trees are so lovely, and your hub was interesting. God Bless You, And Happy Holidays.

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

nikipa, your welcome thank you for leaving your appreciated comments, best wishes to you.

nikipa profile image

nikipa 6 years ago from Eastern Europe

Beautiful and magnificent oak! Great research!

Thank you for sharing it with us!

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Hi jand, will look forward to reading your hub. Thank you for visiting and for leaving your appreciated comments. Acorns are easy to germinate, make sure your compost/soil is kept moist.Good luck.

jandee profile image

jandee 6 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

Thanks D.A.L! Up early tom.acorn hunting I am eager to try the 'grow an oak tree ' love trees so much and my best photos of trees I have taken are in France but as soon as I get there I will try to do a little hub-effort of them,from jandee

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Aj2008 thank you fpr reading and for leaving your interesting comment. It is possible to keep an oak tree within the confines of a large pot for many years so long as it is fed regularly during the growing season.

AJ2008 6 years ago

Ah yes, the mighty oak - I just love them. I have one growing in a pot that I have raised from an acorn taken from my Uncle's garden just after he passed away. At some stage I am going to have to find somewhere to plant the tree - my garden is not big enough to cope with it.

Another very famous oak tree was sitauated in the park at Hatfield House, where Princess Elizabeth was imprisoned by her sister Queen Mary. Legend has it that she heard of her sister's death and that she had become Queen, while sitting beneath the tree. The trunk of the original tree is preserved at Hatfield House.

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Jerilee, took your advise hope you like them

sendflowers2009 6 years ago

What the interesting hub, thank you! National flowers and trees is very interesting topic - I'm writing it too. :)

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

Excellent info! Love to see some pictures though.

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