The Mighty White Oak

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Published on: Nov. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 4, 2010

you are building a house on a site that has a large white oak, it behooves you to protect such a valuable tree during the construction of the house. Fence out a large area outside the drip line of the tree to protect it and its roots from damage.

White oaks are valuable to wildlife, providing both food and shelter. Acorns produced on the trees are eaten by a variety of wildlife, including deer, turkeys, squirrels, birds and insects. Sometimes wildlife can so heavily consume these acorns that there are few left to generate new trees. Not all acorns are sound (in one study only about 20 percent were good), and insects damage many of them. It's been said that it takes 10,000 acorns to produce one tree; all the rest are consumed, damaged or infertile.

Oak trees are commonly as much as 25 years old before they begin to produce acorns, and good crops of acorns appear at intervals of two to 10 years, though some years may produce no acorns, and production by trees growing near each other can vary widely.

About 30 cavity-nesting species of birds live in openings in white oak trees, as do squirrels, flying squirrels, raccoons and other hole-nesting wildlife. About 270 species of wildlife will use woodlands with large cavity trees, dead trees and large logs on the ground.

A large, old tree with dead branches, hollow trunks or other cavities will play host to the most creatures, and dead snags are valuable too. A wide range of ages among the white oaks growing in a common area will contribute to the habitat needs of a variety of wildlife species. Some animals, like barred owls and raccoons, want cavities as high off the ground as possible. Wood ducks will nest in cavities of trees along streams.

Other trees in my yard include a healthy shingle oak and several hackberries. None of them approach the majesty of the big white oak. A redbud grows in its shade. The redbud, my only success in planting new trees anywhere near the white oak, leans precipitously in an effort to catch sunlight not blocked by the big oak.

The white oak is the best known and most commercially valuable tree of the oaks. Oaks themselves account for about two-thirds of all the commercial timber cut in Missouri. According to the Conservation Department's Missouri Conservation Trees and Shrubs, lumber from white oaks sets the

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