The White Oak
Nature Bulletin No. 150 April 10, 1948
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation
THE WHITE OAK
Of all the midwestern hardwood trees, the oaks are prized the most.
And of them all, the white oak, more than any other, has become the
symbol of beauty, durability and strength.
White oaks are hard to transplant, and they grow slowly, but they can
be grown from acorns. Start a young oak now. Your grandchildren can
rest in its shade. Your grandchild' s grandchildren can hold a family
picnic beneath that same oak. In two more generations that tree will just
be coming into its prime. Any white oak of eighteen or more inches
breast-high diameter is as old as or older than Chicago, and a few of our
giant oaks were good-sized trees when the Pilgrims landed. The stump
of one of these, recently cut because it was dead and a public hazard,
showed 430 annual growth rings.
Ships that sailed me seven seas were commonly built of white oak.
Ship's timbers as much as 36 inches square and 60 feet long, once were
cut in Illinois for the British navy. In World War II a heavy toll was
taken of our white oaks for harbor tugs, mine-sweepers, subchasers,
hospital ships, rescue boats and landing craft.
Strong, close-grained and light brown, the wood of the white oak ranks
highest among the hardwoods for its usefulness. It is tough, very heavy
and resistant to decay. The demand for it far exceeds the supply and in
recent years, except for wartime uses, good white oak has been reserved
for flooring, furniture, veneer and barrels. The lower grades are used
for railroad ties, piling, bridge planking and mine timbers.
The seeds of most trees are scattered widely by the wind or by birds.
But the oak, like the hickory and the walnut, depends almost entirely for
its distribution upon the squirrel which gathers and buries acorns for
winter food, depending upon memory or scent to find them again.
Hooray for the absent-minded squirrel!
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Update: June 2012