A walk in the park or forest in autumn often leads you encounter either a fallen acorn or colorful lobed leaf from an oak tree. While these characteristics of oak trees seem obvious, there are some intriguing lesser-known facts about oaks. Oaks are either deciduous or evergreen with their leaves and they produce flowers in spring, although small and not ornamental. Male flowers shed lots of yellow pollen and only the female flowers become the dry, hard fruits called acorns.
The modern word "oak" has origins to "aiks" in Old English. which was spoken up until 1100 A.D., according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. The name also translated into other Germanic languages of northern Europe. The Viking Norse word was "eik." The Old High German word was "eih," and modern German uses "eiche." Moreover, the importance of oak in mythology led "oak" to also simply mean "tree."
The botanical name for oak is Quercus, a Latin name derived from the Celtic word "quer," meaning "fine," and "cuea," or "tree."
The Greeks, Romans, Celts, Slavs and Teutonic tribes of Europe regarded the oak as the foremost of venerated trees. The Druids frequently worshipped and practiced rituals in oak groves and it is believed the name druid is from the Gaelic word "duir," meaning "oak;" Druid literally means "men of the oaks," according to Trees for Life. Ancient kings wore crowns of oak leaves to symbolize their connectivity to gods and the Romans announced their victories and prowess with oak leave embellishments, too. In fact, modern military symbolism still includes ornamentation of oak leaves as a symbol of military success or power.
There are about 400 species of oak. They grow either as tall trees or more clumping shrubs, naturally growing primarily only in Europe, Asia and North America. The southernmost natural extend of native oak distribution includes the Mediterranean coast of northern African and Colombia in northern South America, according to the Flora of North America website.
Oak trees start producing acorns when they are 20 years old, but some species wait until age 50 for the first production. According to Arcytech, a mature oak tree can produce 2,200 acorns annually each fall. Acorn production varies each year. Not even the healthiest and largest oak can accumulate ample food and energy to produce massive acorn crops two years in succession. Bumper crops may happen every 4 to 10 years in cycles. Acorns eaten by wildlife are often referred to as "mast."
Squirrels bury acorns underground to last them through the winter season, when food is scarce, but so do blue jays and woodpeckers. The number of acorns hidden by animals is comparatively small to the amount hidden by the oak tree's fallen leaves, according to Arcytech. Hidden acorns eventually rot from mold.