Ralph Waldo Emerson may have written, "The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn," but the worthy poet probably failed to realize the amount of luck involved, too. The majestic oak tree is complex in nature, and, given its propensity for both age and size, it is one of the true wonders of the forest. But like all living things, even the mighty oak has a fragility few appreciate.
Beating the Odds
Anyone with an old oak tree in his yard will tell you what a treasure it is, but few truly understand the amount of luck involved as well. It takes many elements, including good weather, ample rainfall and proper temperatures, just to enable a bloom to become an acorn, and even then its odds of surviving to the tree stage are slim. Thanks to such things as hungry squirrels, late frosts and extreme drought, only one acorn in every 10,000 will be lucky enough to grow into a tree, according to estimates from Arcytech.org, an organization aimed at improving education through technology.
Patience is Required
It takes a long time to make both the oak and the acorn. A slow-growing but long-lived hardwood, oaks take upward of 20 years before they start producing their first nuts, with some holding off as long as 50 years. Once they reach maturity in roughly 75 years, however, oaks produce acorns by the thousands.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Acorn production is anything but consistent. Because a large acorn crop taxes the oak of energy, production the following year or two--or even three or four--will often be sporadic.
The Angel Oak
The Angel Oak--known only as The Tree on its home of John's Island near Charleston, South Carolina--is the oldest known thing, living or manmade, east of the Rocky Mountains. Its massive girth totals nearly 25 feet in circumference and its canopy extends more than 160 feet, giving it a coverage area of more than 17,000 square feet of ground. The Angel Oak is roughly 65 feet tall.
The Largest Oak
Despite this impressive size, the Angel Oak doesn't reign supreme as the largest living oak on record. That honor belongs to the Seven Sisters Oak of Lewisburg, Louisiana. Checking in at more than 37 feet in circumference, it has a canopy that extends roughly 150 feet. At roughly 1,000 years old, however, the Seven Sisters Oak is a relative baby compared with the 1,500-year-old Angel Oak tree.