Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Magical Trees - Oak

Magical Trees - Oak written by one of our students Gypsy Willowmoon

English Oak:
Scientific name: Quercus Robur
Common names: Pedunculate Oak
Family: Fagaceae
UK Province: Native

Oaks are a symbol of great strength and endurance. In England the Oak has assumed the status of national emblem.

These magnificent trees grow to well over 30metres and can live for 1,000 years or more. Flowering begins in late spring, with the fruits or acorns ripening in time for autumn. Acorns grow in clusters of 5 normally, and are a rich food source for lots of birds and small mammals, particularly the Jay and squirrels, who cache away the acorns to eat them later. Acorns are not produced until the tree is at least 40yrs old. Peak acorn fecundity usually occurs around 80-120 yrs.

Being deciduous (a tree that shed's its leaves annually) Oaks leave their distinctive lobed and wavy leaves in the winter.

The Oak has been a prized source of timber since prehistoric times. It is said that an Oak tree hid Charles II from the roundheads at Boscobel.

English Oak is arguably the best known and loved of British native trees. It is the most common tree species in the UK, especially in Southern and Central British deciduous woods. As common Oaks mature they form broad and spreading crowns, with sturdy branches beneath. Their open canopy enables light to penetrate through to the woodland floor, allowing bluebell and primroses to grow below.

In England the Oak has for centuries been a national symbol of strength and survival. It has played an important part in our culture. Couples were wed under ancient Oaks in Oliver Cromwell's time.
The festival Yule log was traditionally cut from Oak.

It features on the 1987 £ coin and is the inspiration for the emblem of many environmentally focused organisations, including The Woodland Trust.

Traditionally the leaves bark and acorns were believed to heal many medical ailments including diarrhoea, inflammation and kidney stones.

Historically humans also collected acorns and processed them into flour for bread making! I can't imagine that that tasted very nice!   Their smooth and silvery brown bark becomes rugged and deeply fissured with age. Oak tree growth is particularly rapid in youth but gradually slows at around 120 yrs. Oaks even shorten with age in order to expand their life span.

Leaves around 10 cm long with 4-5 deep lobes with smooth edges. Leaf burst occurs mid May (although the leaves did burst in March this year) the leaves have almost no stem and grow in bunches.
Flowers - are long yellow hanging catkins which distribute pollen into the air.

Fruits - Acorn are commonly 2-2.5 cms long, borne on lengthy stalks and held tightly by cupules (the cup shaped base) 
As it ripens the green acorn takes on a more autumnal brown colour, loosens from the cupule and falls.

Most acorns never get the chance to germinate, as they are a rich food source, eaten by many wild creatures, Jays, mice and squirrels.

They need to germinate and root quickly to prevent drying out or becoming victims of the harvest.

Following successful germination a new sapling will appear the following spring.

Oaks have distinctive lobed leaves with short leaf stalks (petioles) leaf lobes are rounded.   

They are native to the northern hemisphere existing in cool regions right through to tropical climates. They provide a habitat rich in biodiversity, they support more life forms than any other native trees. They host hundreds of species of insect, supply many British birds with an important food source. In autumn mammals such as badgers and deer take advantage of the falling acorns. Flower and leaf buds of English Oak and Sessile Oak are the food plants of Caterpillars of purple hairstreak butterflies. The soft leaves of the English Oaks break down with ease in autumn and form a rich leaf mould beneath the tree, supporting invertebrates, such as the stag beetle and numerous fungi, like the Oak bug milk cap. Holes and crevices in the bark are nesting spots for the Pied flycatcher or Marsh tit. Several British bat species may also roost in old woodpecker holes or under loose bark, as well as feeding on the rich supply of insects in the tree canopy.

Tannin found in the bark has been used to tan leather since Roman times.
Tannic acid in the leaves is poisonous to horses if consumed in excess, damaging the kidneys.

Acorns are poisonous to horses and cattle, though pigs can eat them safely in moderation.

The Oak Processionary Moth is a non native pest that has been found in London and Berkshire not only does it damage the foliage of the trees it increases the Oaks susceptibility to other diseases, It is a risk to human health  - The moths hairs are toxic and can lead to itching and respiratory problems  if inhaled.

Acute Oak Decline (AOD) and Chronic Oak Decline (COD) are serious conditions affecting Britain's Oaks, several contributing factors are linked to the disease. Key symptoms include: canopy thinning, branch dieback and black weeping patches on stems and lesions underlying the bleed spots.    
Source and

The Oak is held in high regard across most cultures in Europe. To the Greeks, Romans, Celts, Slavs and Teutonic tribes the Oak was one of the foremost venerated trees and in each case associated with the supreme God in their pantheon. Oak being sacred to Zeus, Jupiter, Dagda, Perun and Thor, each of these goods also had dominion over rain, thunder and lightning. Druids frequently worshipped and practised their rites in Oak groves, mistletoe probably the Druids most potent and magical plant, frequently grew on Oak, and its presence was believed to indicate the hand of God having placed it there during a lightning strike.

Ancient kings presented themselves as the personifications of these Gods, taking on the responsibility not only for success in battle but also fertility of the land, which relied on rainfall.

They wore crowns of Oak leaves, as a symbol of the God they represented as kings on earth. 

Royalty has had a long association with Oak trees too, ancient kings adorned themselves with crowns made of Oak leaves, and Roman emperors were presented with crowns of Oak leaves during victory parades.

Oak leaves have continued to be icons of military prowess to the present day.

Oak leaves connection to rain fall also survived in more recent folklore in a variety of similar rhymes about which trees leaves appeared first.

Such as the Irish saying:

If the Oak before the Ash,
Then we'll only have a splash.
If the Ash before the Oak,
Then we'll surely have a soak.

St. Columbus was said to have a fondness and respect for the Oak tree and was said to be reluctant to fell them.

Many parishes used to contain what became known as Gospel Oak, a prominent tree at which part of the Gospel was read during the Beating of the Bounds ceremonies at Rogantide in spring.

In Somerset stand the two very ancient Oaks of Gog and Magog (named after the last male and female giants) which are reputed to be the remnants of the Oak lined processional route up to the nearby Glastonbury Tor.

The major Oak in Sherwood Forest is purported to be the tree where Robin Hood and his merry men hatched their plots and is now a popular tourist attraction, although this particular tree probably doesn't predate the 16th Century.

Children would wear Oak leaves or better still Oak apples as part of a custom which officially lasted until 1859 but in fact continued until well into the twentieth century.


Forests play a prominent role in many folktales and legends. In these dark mysterious place heroes can lose their way, face unexpected challenges and stumble upon hidden secrets.
Part of the age old magic of forests lies in the ideas that people have about trees.

In myths and legends around the world they appear as ladders between worlds, as sources of life and as physical forms of supernatural beings. With its roots buried deep in the earth, and its trunk above ground, its branches stretching towards the sky, a tree serves as a symbolic, living link between this world and those of the supernatural beings.

In many myths a tree is a vital part of the structure of the universe. Gods and their messengers travel from world to world by climbing up and down trees.

The Norse believed that a tree runs like an axis, or pole, through this world and realms above and below it. They called their tree Yggdrasill. It was a great Ash tree that nourished Gods, humans and animals connecting all living things and all phases of existence.
In traditional societies of Latvia, Lithuania and Northern Germany, The World Tree was thought to be a distant Oak, Birch or Apple tree with Iron roots, copper branches and silver leaves. The spirits of the dead lived in this tree.

Greek folktales of Goblins in the underworld who try to cut the roots of the tree that is holding up the earth and sky.

Norse legends contain a similar image with an evil serpent forever gnawing at Yggdrasills roots.

The mythology of early India, presented in texts called the Upanishads, Includes a cosmic tree called Asvattha. It is the living universe, an aspect of Brahman, the world spirit. This cosmic tree reverses the usual order. Its roots are in the sky, and its branches grow downward to cover the earth.

The Greek Gods Zeus and Hera were known as The Oak God and The oak Goddess.

Zeus; oracle in Dodona, Epirus, was considered to be the oldest in Greece. The oracle was founded when a black dove flew from Thebes in Egypt and settled in an Oak tree at Dodona. The tree became the centre of the temple and priests would divine Gods assertions and judgements in the rustling of the Oaks leaves.  The oracle at Dodona was visited by notable heroes of Greek mythology including Jason when searching for The Golden Fleece. In Homers Odyssey, Odysseus consults the Oaken oracle to ask if he should return to Ithaca as himself or in disguise.

The Oak was also sacred to Thor, Donar's Oak Old Germans Thor's Oak, was a sacred tree to Germanic Pagans near Hesse, Germany. In the 18th Century, The Donars Oak was cut down by Anglo -Saxon Christian missionary St. Boniface. Wood from the tree was then used to build a church and the site dedicated to St Peter.

Pliny the Elder, describes the Druids of Gaul performing all their religious ceremonies in Oak groves. Druids would consume acorns in a way of divining the future. Oak trees with mistletoe were considered the most powerful in the forest. The mistletoe was cut from the Oak by a white cloaked Priest with Golden sickle, and two white bulls would be sacrificed. The religious ceremony culminated with the rendering of an elixir that was said to cure infertility and to be an antidote to all poisons. Wearing Oak leaves was a sign of special social status amongst the Celts.

Those born under the astrological sign of the Oak (June 10 - July 7th) Have a special gift of strength. They are protective people and often become a champion for those who have no voice. The Oak is the crusader and the spokesperson for the underdog, nurturing, generous and helpful.

The live Oak was often called “King Oak" by the Celts and also considered sacred to the Druids as I mentioned earlier, they believe the Oak is connected with great strength, money, success, fertility and even good fortune.

To carry an acorn in your pocket for an important interview or meeting, will bring you good luck.

Sessile Oak (Quercus Petraea)
About 450 species of Oak have been described worldwide, of which 25 are native to Europe, but only Sessile and Pendunculate Oaks have such a broad distribution, and they are the sole species native to North and West of the continent. In the past, large areas of Europe were covered by temperate deciduous forests in which these two Oaks predominated, but only a small proportion of these forests remain today, the majority converted to agriculture.
Sessile Oaks predominate in the North and West of Scotland.
Sessile Oaks do NOT produce acorns.


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