In the UK, one tree has remained a consistent favourite among the public, both to admire in nature and to use for man-made structures. This tree is the oak, and at Oak Frames Direct, we have had the pleasure of working with oak as a material in our buildings and construction kits for over 30 years. As a result, we have also learned many interesting oak facts, from its place in history and culture to how long they can live for, how tall they can grow and how many species there are.
Below, we have listed twenty fun facts about oak trees that you may keep in mind when you are thinking of building materials for your next work or home project.
1. There are numerous species
There are approximately 600 species of oak tree present across the world, including hybridised versions. Just two of these species are native to the UK; the English oak (also known as the pedunculate oak), which produces acorns on a stalk (or peduncle), and the sessile oak, which is stalkless.
North America houses the greatest concentration of oak tree species, with 90 different varieties growing in the United States and 160 growing in Mexico (though 109 of these are endemic). The second largest centre of diversity in oak species is China, which has 100 species.
2. They are a national symbol
As a symbol of strength and steadfastness, the oak has been chosen as a national tree by multiple countries. These include not only England and Wales, but also Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Germany, Moldova, Jordan, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Serbia and the United States.
3. They have been built with for centuries
Even our ancestors knew the benefits of oak as a construction material, as the wood has been used since prehistoric times for building. The most famous example of this is the Bronze Age monument known as Seahenge, a timber circle of oak tree stumps surrounding an upturned oak altar, discovered in mud flats off the Norfolk coast. The henge is thought to have been used for rituals, with some scholars believing it had a purpose in funeral rites.
4. They have a place in religion and mythology
Oak trees have been associated with many ancient religions around the world, including beliefs from Greek, Roman and Norse tradition. In these cases, they were considered sacred symbols of Zeus, Jupiter and Thor, respectively. Celtic druids also planted groves of oak trees for religious rites, and an oak tree is even mentioned in the Bible, when Jacob buried idols and other items taken from members of his household underneath one near the city of Shechem.
5. They are present in our stories
Perhaps the most famous oak tree of all has a role in one of Britain’s most famous stories ‒ that of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. This tree, which is believed to be around 1,000 years old, is known as the Major Oak and is situated near Edwinstowe, a village in the heart of Sherwood Forest. In the story, the tree was often the hiding place of Robin and his band, when on the run from the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Owing to its size, in the present day, the Major Oak is propped up by splints underneath its limbs, preventing the weight of the tree from pulling it over.
6. They live extraordinarily long lives
Almost all species of oak have been recorded to live for at least 200 years, but it is believed that many can survive for thousands if they are not disturbed. For instance, the Meavy Oak in Devon was believed to have been planted during the reign of King John, making it at least 900 years old.
Oak trees are normally considered old when they have reached the age of 700, which is the age they stop producing acorns.
7. They can grow to amazing heights
Even though oak trees are considered an “average” height tree for the most part, some can grow to astonishing heights and widths for their species. For instance, one of the largest oak trees ever recorded, the Angel Oak of Johns Island, South Carolina (pictured), has a height of 65ft and a trunk with a circumference of 28ft.
Because of their size, the larger members of each species can take in up to 50 gallons of water a day.
8. They are more likely to be hit by lightning
Owing to the fact that they can grow tall, have a longer lifespan, grow a deep central root and have hollow, water-filled cells that run up and down the wood of the trunk, there is a greater potential for oak trees to be hit by lightning than most other types of tree. This increases their significance in the beliefs of druids, who seek “arwen” or “inspiration” from the lightning. This process is known as “courting the flash”.
9. They beat the odds to grow to maturity
A fully grown oak tree can produce anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 acorns a year, depending on its species and size, but for every 10,000 dropped by a single tree, only one of these will grow up to become another fully grown oak tree. This is because most of the acorns, which contain only a single seed (though on rare occasions they contain two) will be digested by animals and then fertilised back into the ground.
10. They play an important role in the ecosystem
Oak forests are some of the richest habitats for wildlife, and a wide variety of animals feed on the acorns and leaves that the trees drop. Deer, squirrels, mice and even pigeons and ducks will all happily make a meal out of these things.
11. They have been used in medicine
For centuries, both Native American groups and European herbalists would use different parts of oak trees in remedies for anything from bleeding and swelling, to tumours and as an antidote to poisons. The powdered roots of oak trees was used to treat diseases and the leaves have been used to promote healing of wounds. The tree has even been used as a substitute for Quinine (a medication used to treat malaria) in treating fevers.
Modern scientific research has confirmed that oak does have the potential to help heal some afflictions, being astringent, fever reducing, and having antiseptic, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
12. They can be made into coffee and bread
In times when coffee beans were not available, acorns from oak trees would often be ground up and made into coffee instead. German troops during the First World War called it “Ersatz” coffee.
Acorns can also be ground into flour, and used to make bread. Native American tribes have done this for centuries, and there are a host of recipes to be found.
13. They have been made into art
The largest botanical specimen on display at the Natural History Museum is the thinly sliced layers of a 200 year old oak tree, and is presented as an installation by the artist Tania Kovats. It is displayed on the ceiling of the Treasures Gallery in the museum.
14. They have been converted into music
Similarly, the multimedia artist Bartholomaus Traubeck turned the rings of an oak tree into the equivalent of a vinyl record, using a special type of camera to read the grain on the sliced wooden discs and converting the result into sound.
15. They are often displayed on currency
From 1926 until 1936, the British sixpence coin featured a design of oak sprigs divided by six acorns, while the German Deutschemark displayed oak branches. The Euro also features a design using oak branches.
16. They can be used for ink
Oak gall ink, made from salts and the tannic acids found in the wood, was the standard ink formulation used in Europe between the end of the Roman period, all the way up until the 19th Century. This means that some of the most important texts in history, including the Magna Carta, important scientific theories made by Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, and symphonies written by Mozart and Beethoven would have all been written using ink made from oak galls.
17. They were used for ships
As oak is less dense than water, it will float. This makes it seaworthy and it was therefore used by the Vikings to build ships, and was also used by the Royal Navy until the mid 19th Century. Famous ships during this time include HMS Victory, which took 6,000 trees to complete, most of which would have been oak.
18. There was a day for oak apples
29th May used to be celebrated in England as Oak Apple Day, in celebration of Charles II hiding in an oak tree to escape the Roundheads in 1651. The day was chosen as it was the king’s birthday, and declared a public holiday by Parliament in 1660. It was officially celebrated every year until 1859.
The original Royal Oak at Boscobel, the tree Charles II hid in, was destroyed in the 18th Century by tourists snipping off branches as souvenirs.
19. They help to make alcohol
Barrels made from oak wood are a popular choice in the fermenting and storage of many different types of alcohol, including wine, whiskey, brandy and some types of beer. It is even possible for the wood to instil some flavours in wine, if they are aged in the barrels for long enough. These notes are often picked up in wine tasting sessions by connoisseurs.
20. They help our environment
Recent studies have shown that oak trees play a significant role in extracting carbon from the atmosphere, helping to reduce global warming and improve our environment. This is why it is important that for every tree used, more are grown in their place.
At Oak Frames Direct, we always make sure that three trees are planted in place of every one we use in our products. This helps to keep our work sustainable and means that there will be oak trees growing for many years to come.
For More Information
If you love the way oak looks, why not consider using some to make a beautiful new addition to your home? At OFD, our oak frame porches, garages and extensions are all available to customers across the UK and are guaranteed to add charm and character to your property, no matter the original style.
Get in touch with us today and our friendly staff will be able to help you plan the building you want, all while talking you through the benefits of this wonderful wood as a component in your latest construction project.
Darren Hook has been in the Oak Framed Building industry for over 30 years. He took over the business from his father and has been the driving force behind acquiring Trada Q-Mark certification. He has a lifelong love for traditional and sustainable building methods.