I enjoy blowing autumn leaves.  All of the colors and crisp air bring back to me fond childhood memories of playing in piles of leaves, making construction paper leaves to tape to the school window, Halloween, hot apple cider, and just the thrill of going back to school after the summer recess.

Every morning now I hear the neighbors blowing leaves.  Some people dislike this sound, but to me it is just part of the season.  As a boy it was the ‘scritch, scratch’ of leaf rakes.  Now it is leaf blowers.  I have to blow our drive.  There are huge oaks at the end of the drive and arching over the north side of the house.

The two oaks are quite different and in the wool gathering moments when we are doing something mindless our minds wander to all sorts of places.  Mine went to “what kind of oak is this?”  That’s not surprising.  Our ancestors survived by categorizing things; things that you could eat, things that would poison you, things that were delectable, things that tasted really awful.  Green persimmons would make you make a face.  Yellow, ripe, persimmons were delicious.

We looked at things as a matter of utility.  This tree’s wood was brittle.  That tree’s wood could be bent double without breaking, and on and on.

We divide oaks broadly into two groups, red and white; Quercus rubra and Quercus alba.  Oaks contain a lot of tannin.  Red oaks really contain a lot of tannin.  You can almost eat the acorns of white oaks.  The acorns of red oaks will give you a belly ache.  From a forestry stand point the wood of red oaks is less preferable than that of white.

So, how do you tell which is which?  In the fall the identification is easy.  Red oak leaves have lobes coming to sharp points and white oak leaves have lobes with rounded points. 

 

There are many subspecies of red and white oaks.  The one beside our house is commonly called a turkey oak.  If you haven’t been around turkeys, many of the leaves look like a turkey track. The Latin name is Quercus laevis.  It is a type of red oak.

The oak commonly called a willow oak has a leaf like that of a willow tree. 

It is long and narrow without any lobes at all.  Quercus phellos, the willow oak is a magnificent tree.  A previous home was partially covered by one with a trunk that must have been a meter and a half in diameter.  In the fall it was a royal pain.  Those skinny little leaves slip through a rake and get caught up in the grass when blown, and they compact into heavy masses if they are damp at all.  But no one would have cut that tree down.  What a beauty it was.

Blowing oak leaves lasts long into the winter because oak leaves just turn an annoying brown and fall a few at a time for weeks.  Eventually, in the dead of winter the limbs stretch stark against leaden skies, arms stretched in supplication for the return of the sun.

Quercos phellos image from the UNC Herbarium.  The others came from my leaf pile.

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Comment by koshersalaami on October 31, 2015 at 11:31am

I used to live among more oaks, though I can see some from here. I like furniture made of red oak because of the color.

Comment by Zanelle on October 31, 2015 at 11:54am

This is the perfect fall report.  Thank you!!

Comment by JMac1949 Today on October 31, 2015 at 12:10pm

We have some very big very old Oak trees here in California, but nothing as ancient as the Angel Oak in South Carolina:

Comment by Rodney Roe on October 31, 2015 at 12:19pm

We have bedroom furniture from a factory in my home town made from red oak.  We bought it in 1972 and it is way out of style, but indestructible. I like the color, too, and I think it makes the grain stand out more.

Comment by Rodney Roe on October 31, 2015 at 12:31pm

I stood next to the angel tree.  It is ancient.  Apparently live oaks are very difficult to age.  Some have estimated it to be 1500 years old.  Most think it is more like 300-400 years old.  It looks like a hobbit should step out from behind it.

Comment by JMac1949 Today on October 31, 2015 at 12:52pm

Looking at the scale of the canopy I thought that the 1500 year age might be legendary.  Here's California's largest Oak Tree on the Pechanga Indian Reservation, about to be surrounded by golf courses and housing developments that are planned to spread out from the existing tribal hotel and casino:

The Great Oak is the largest natural-growing, indigenous coast live oak [Quercus agrifolia]) wi'aashal tree in the United States and is estimated to be anywhere from 850 to 1,500 years old, making it one of the oldest oak trees in the world. The tree has been used by countless generations as a gathering place. The Great Oak area, Wi'aasha, is home to numerous culturally sensitive, historical and archaeological sites, including tribal interment sites from time immemorial.

Comment by nerd cred on October 31, 2015 at 1:08pm

The pictured trees are breathtaking.

So now I know the neighbor's big oak is a white. All I've got is that stupid silver maple. Neither used to lose their leaves before the ground was snow covered - a huge convenience. Now the snow comes later.

Comment by Rodney Roe on October 31, 2015 at 1:51pm

JMac, you always do this to me.  I had to search for the oldest tree in the Eastern US.  This is from a doctoral thesis by a dendrochronologist: ..."the
oldest oak is a white oak Ed Cook cored in 1983 along the Blue Ridge Parkway in
central VA. This sample was too suppressed for his work (drought reconstruction)
and had been sitting in our lab undated for almost 20 years. I spent more than a
day trying too crossdate this sample. It was very suppressed for > 200 years.
The inner ring date is 1519 making this tree 464 years when cored. We don't
know if this tree is still alive.
"

Comment by JMac1949 Today on October 31, 2015 at 2:16pm

For what it's worth California is home to the General Sherman Sequoia, purportedly the largest single tree in the world:

and claims to be home to the world's tallest tree, a Coastal Redwood over 311 feet tall:

...and next door in Nevada in the Great Basin National Park grows what is supposed to be the world's oldest tree, a Bristle Cone Pine tree hidden away high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains:

Comment by koshersalaami on October 31, 2015 at 2:36pm

http://oldewyepencompany.com/images/Wye_Oak_Modified.jpg


This was the Wye Oak on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It fell in a thunderstorm in 2002. It was about four and a half centuries old. I used to drive past it going to and from a place my parents had on Tilghman Island, past St. Michaels

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