Thursday, March 10, 2011

Plant of the Week: Swamp-White Oak (Quercus bicolor)

Two Oaks - Purchase Photo
Swamp White Oak is a common component of our Northern Hardwood Swamps.  Like all oaks it produces acorns, which are relished by squirrels, chipmunks, deer, blue jays and crows.  Squirrels and blue jays often cache the extra bounty of acorns by burying them, and inadvertently planting the next generation of oaks.  Squirrels don’t remember where they bury the acorns, and rely on their sense of smell to find them at anytime of the year.  Oaks fall into two categories:  red oaks and white oaks.  Red oaks have pointy leaves and bitter acorns that take two years to mature.  Contrastingly, the leaves of white oaks have rounded leaf tips, and sweeter acorns that mature their first year.  Because they are sweeter they are preferred by wildlife and the few humans that still like to make flour out of acorns after leaching them of tannins.  Many white oak species are resistant to rot--swamp white is no exception-- and many of the ancient tilted wooden fence posts in Wisconsin are made from different species of white oaks.

A great resource on the trees of Wisconsin is actually Michigan Trees by Burton V. Barnes and Warren H. Wagner Jr., from which some of the above information is obtained.  

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