Wild Side: Monumental treesOrion dancing across the sky on a clear winter night is beautiful. The light from most of the stars in the Orion constellation has travelled over 800 years at 186,000 miles a second to reach us. It’s humbling to know that we are less than one billionth of a light year tall.
By: Dan Wilcox, Outdoor Columnist, Pierce County Herald
Orion dancing across the sky on a clear winter night is beautiful. The light from most of the stars in the Orion constellation has travelled over 800 years at 186,000 miles a second to reach us. It’s humbling to know that we are less than one billionth of a light year tall.
More comforting is the familiar fractal pattern of black tree branch silhouettes dividing the void. The trees stand between us and the rest of the universe. Among the most monumental trees around here are burr oaks, red oaks, sugar maples, basswoods and cottonwoods. Each species has its recognizable form.
Some big old burr oak trees have been growing in our valley for over 150 years, witnesses to many events. How many ground fires, wind storms, howling blizzards, ice storms, droughts, biting deer, rabbits and squirrels have shaped those trees?
Native Americans burned this area to keep the oak savanna habitat productive. Burr oaks are well adapted to fire, having thick fire-resistant bark. Growing in somewhat open areas, burr oaks have a strong trunk and spreading branch structure that can stand up to winds. Burr oaks are closely related to other white oak species, having rot-resistant dense wood and leaves with lobes that are rounded at the ends.
Burr oaks make plenty of acorns about an inch across with a fuzzy cap that encase the seed over half way around. The acorns are mild and nutritious, providing food for many species of wildlife and people too. Acorn flour pancakes are better tasting than you might think.
The mature oaks make big acorn crops every few years, flooding the area around them with seeds. Squirrels distribute the acorns widely, caching the nuts in the ground for future dining. Many acorns are forgotten or become unavailable to the squirrels under deep snow and sprout the following spring.
Deer and cottontail rabbits like burr oak seedlings and bite them back. The seedlings are tough, however, and invest what energy they gain in their first years by growing a big carrot-like tap root. Despite deer and rabbit browsing, they persist and sprout back again the following spring.
In years when there hasn’t been an overly hot ground fire or a high rabbit population, burr oak seedlings get the chance to grow to a size where they become more resistant to fire and browsing. That’s why we see many stands of older burr oaks around here that are of even age, cohorts that grew up together during good times.
There is plenty to learn from the old burr oaks and the other monumental trees in our neighborhood. We should be inspired by their persistence, living here so long, to more closely observe what’s going on in the outdoors.
Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at email@example.com.