“ Oaks can be separated into three groups, sometimes considered subgenera: white oaks (Leucobalanus) and red or black oaks (Erythrobalanus) have the scales of the acorn cups spirally arranged; in the third group (Cyclobalanus) the scales are fused into concentric rings. White oaks have smooth, non-bristle-tipped leaves, occasionally with glandular margins. Their acorns mature in one season, have sweet-tasting seeds, and germinate within a few days after their fall. Red or black oaks have bristle-tipped leaves, hairy-lined acorn shells, and bitter fruits, which mature at the end of the second growing season. Oaks have spirally arranged leaves, with a lobed margin in many species; some have serrated leaves or entire leaves with a smooth margin. The flowers are catkins, produced in spring. The fruit is a nut called an acorn, borne in a cup-like structure known as a cupule; each acorn contains one seed (rarely two or three) and takes 6-18 months to mature, depending on species. The live oaks (oaks with evergreen leaves) are not a distinct group, instead with their members scattered among the sections below. „
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"As above, so below!
From tiny courageous seed, mighty strength will grow.
Heart of lightning,
timeless doors opening within my ancient bole...
I will strengthen and feed you; body, mind, and soul.
I will awaken the primal King
and enduring Bard in you."
"Our ordinary mind always tries to persuade us that we are nothing but acorns and that our greatest happiness will be to become bigger, fatter, shinier acorns; but that is of interest only to pigs. Our faith gives us knowledge of something better: that we can become oak trees." ~E.F. Schumacher
Oak trees are associated with strength, wisdom, lightning, longevity, protection, stability, sun energy, success, vitality, and matters of law. The burning of Oak leaves was once regarded in the same manner as the burning of Sage is now; to purify, clear of negativity, to honor and invite Spirit, and create a prayerful meditative state. Acorns can be prepared as food in a variety of ways, and "cakes" or bread from this nut are particularly tasty. The leaves and bark of the Oak are the main parts to be used medicinally. Over time, Oak has been used to treat wounds, inflamed eyes, cuts and burns, as a mouthwash for bleeding gums, hemorrhoids, varicose veins and as a gargle for sore throats. A decoction of the bark has been used for reducing fevers, diarrhea, dysentery, tonsillitis, pharyngitis and laryngitis.
There are about 400 species of Oak tree found around the world. The oldest Oak is either the Pechanga Great Oak in Temecula California, or the Kongeegen found in Denmark. The largest oak on record is known as the "The Seven Sisters Oak" in Lewisburg, Mandeville, Lousiana. It measures 37 feet and 2 inches in circumference with a crown spread of 150 feet! It is believed to be more than 1,000 years old! Oak is highly prized by furniture makers for it's attractive appearance, and is equally prized by wine makers for sturdy barrels that lend a unique flavor to the wine.
This "King of Trees" in Ogham could be translated as "Duir". Found in both Gaelic and in Sanskrit, this word means "door". Oaks are not only a most popular choice as the door to our homes, but also represent doors to new understanding, enlightenment, visions, strengths, wisdom, or other worlds. Oaks are particularly susceptible to lightning strikes, due to their size. This is why they have so often been associated with lightning, thunder and sky deities.
An excellent friend for anyone needing strength, fertility of thought, and new understanding of an old problem. I always walk away from my Oak friends feeling centered, bristling with new ideas, and brimming with fresh strength of purpose. Many oaks that I have encountered during the leafy seasons seem more lively, swifter to notice our attention, and in making decisions on whether or not to engage than other species. Even very young oaks seem to reach out and touch us with their energy as we pass, inviting us to stay and chat awhile. During the winter, Oaks can dream deep and become a dominate voice in this quiet season; clusters of their weathered leaves like rattles in the whistling winds singing of ancient memories.
Especially revered by the Ancient Celts and Norse, the Oak is the traditional Yule log lit by druids to reignite everyone's family fires at the beginning of each year. This hearth fire renewal ceremony brought and sustained protection, success, strength, stability, healing, rebirth, purification, wisdom and fortune into the home each year. Oak is also the tree of Midsummer, a time when the Holly King gives way to the power of the Oak King, and the longest day of the year. Many ancient cultures celebrated Midsummer as a time of fertility, renewal, protection, and luck.
"Scientists have only recently confirmed what ancient cultures have known for centuries: mushrooms have within them some of the most potent medicines found in nature. We know that their cellular constituents can profoundly improve the quality of human health." ~ Paul Stamets
Experts today estimate that only one in every 10,000 acorns produced actually becomes an Oak tree. It takes 20 to 50 years for an oak to achieve the maturity necessary to begin producing acorns. Oak speaks to us of taking a long well-seasoned look at life, and how we choose to live every day. Oak trees live in amazing harmony with the World around them; from their relationship to stars, to the their symbiotic relationship with various fungi, the Oak shows us how to develop beneficial relationships and be Aware of how we interact with All Our Relations. The edible mushroom known as "Sheepshead" or "Hen of the Forest" is notorious for growing on the roots of Oaks. Scientists are just beginning to discover the nutritional and medicinal values of the many Mushroom Teachers.
It was only recently observed that mushrooms, like the Sheepshead, dried while exposed to sunlight provide an excellent nutritional source of the elusive Vitamin D, in addition to being a naturally high fiber low fat source of protein once cooked. We naturally produce this vitamin when exposed to sunlight, but good nutritional sources become important to residents of areas notorious for their lack of sunshine. Oaks are ruled by the Sun, and can provide us with Solar energy in vital ways. Perhaps more than any other Tree Teacher, the Oak speaks of tradition, teaches the enduring value in poetry, music, language, oral traditions, storytelling, and expressive communication. An afternoon is never lost in their company, no matter the season.
"The Monarch Oak, the Patriarch of trees, shoots rise up and spread by slow degrees; Three centuries he grows, and three he stays supreme in state, and in three more decays."~ English saying
Key Concepts: Strength, Doorways, Law, Masculine Creativity and energies, Solar energy, Ancestors, Leadership, Lightning and Thunder, Truth, Protection, Thought, Fae energy, Wisdom, Stability, Success, Longevity
Associated Gods, Goddesses or Mythic figures: Dagda, Zeus, Jupiter, Mars, Taranis, Thor, Pan, Herne, Rhea, Cybele, Cerridwen, Brighid, Janus, Herne, Lugh Lamfada
An ancient oak stands in all its majesty at the end of our garden forming a boundary between my world and another wilder one in the field and woods beyond. It is almost certainly a magical tree for either it or the fairies have enchanted me. When we moved into this house I considered the oak to be a bit of a nuisance. It dominated the view, cast a great deal of shade, nothing grew under it save weeds and it shed millions of leaves which had to be raked up. But a few years on and the tree cast its spells making me appreciate and love it. Nothing much grew under the tree except stubborn perennial weeds and a forest of annual ones. The area under the tree became the dumping ground for grass cuttings and other garden refuse and a place to have bonfires. For the children it was a ready made adventure playground and they hung ropes from the branches to swing and carve huge bare patches below. The years passed and during occasional bouts of gardening interest I tried to reclaim the forest encroaching on my garden. Many plants were planted but very few grew successfully but then I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I gave up and let nature take its course. The English oak (Quercus robur) sustains a greater variety of wildlife than any other species of tree in Europe. Every oak tree is a nature reserve in its own right, supporting for example 284 different kinds of insect alone, plus birds, animals and even plants. The insect life is very impressive if one compares how much other common but alien trees support – the plane tree only one and the horse chestnut only five. With this diversity of insects the tree naturally attracts insect predators such as birds and bats and the acorns provide winter food for birds and small animals. Alongside the common garden predators like hedgehogs, frogs and toads we have quite a lot more. Because the wildlife drawn by the tree in turn attracts other predators such as the polecat,
fox and sparrow hawk. Our tree has a resident green woodpecker and squirrels, jays and wrens are regular visitors. Every summer evening at dusk pipistrelle bats make their swooping appearance and we have had the occasional visit of pheasants, polecats, grass snake and sparrow hawk – the latter may not always be seen but his presence is known by the uncanny silence of the garden. I enjoyed seeing the wildlife but did not realise the tree was the main reason of their visits. I just thought that everyone who lived near the country had the same. But later I discovered that neighbours did not get the same visitors and eventually discovered the attraction of the tree. Having a large variety of birds in the garden does have its disadvantages too for seed bearing flowers are stripped almost instantly. I am lucky if the red hot pokers last much more than a week before being decimated and I have yet to eat a nut from my hazel tree. Because I was interested in identifying the birds and animals in the garden I bought books on wildlife and then moved on to identify the plants which grew naturally under the tree. Birds had brought with them plants which grew happily under the tree. The first were primroses which is a clear indication that the fairies had a hand in all this, but there were also violets, wild strawberries, foxgloves, columbines, lords and ladies and bluebells all self seeded. Eventually I realised that if these plants could thrive under the tree so too could others and began to find plants which would be happy in a woodland situation. Vinca was my first success – in fact it was almost too successful but now kept in check by paths of deep shrub shreddings it provides a bed of green in which stands a white sculpture of a couple embracing, known affectionately as the ‘bonking’ statue. I have three species of vinca growing in various positions under the tree Vinca minor , major and a variegated form. Lily of
the valley is also a happy resident and these sweet smelling ‘fairy ladders’ as they are known in Ireland are an absolute treat in late spring. Another triangular bed, edged with fallen branches, now covered in lichens, from the tree holds several varieties of ferns interplanted with primula species which have interbred with the common primrose to produce delicately shaded hybrids. Here too the lords and ladies have made their home. Alongside the fence several shrubs have settled including holly, hawthorn and a beech tree. I have planted Sweet woodruff and Alchemilla vulgaris both of which are very much at home and spread prolifically. Lemon balm, various euphorbias, epimedium and various mints also seem reasonably happy. At this time of year (spring) the area around the small wildlife pond is awash with colour from the bulbs and primroses. Later the hostas will hopefully appear without too much slug damage. Last year I had perfect hostas for the first time ever as the chickens gave us a slug free garden. The only problem was that they later ruined the hostas themselves by jumping up and down on them. Hellebores, astilbes, bleeding hearts, meadowsweet, creeping Jenny, Dicentra, Bugle, Lungwort, lady’s mantle and geraniums also grow here. The resident weed in this patch, lesser celandine, is allowed to stay as it is quite pretty too. In the corner of the garden an ivy covered fence hides the contained heaps of decaying oak leaves which after about three years rot down to produce a most precious leaf mould. The area under the tree is now a very special part of our garden – a beautifully restful place to sit in dappled shade on a hot summer’s day. It retains much of its wild feel because there are still many ‘weeds’ growing but it is a sort of controlled wildness. Although this opinion has been about what I grow under our oak tree I am sure that if you have a similar proble
m of what to grow under deciduous trees that some of the plants I have mentioned would be equally happy in other semi shaded situations. Several of the plants are very poisonous so do check this out if you are worried about this. Plant List Astilbe – tends to only do well in wet seasons. Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) I have the white variety as it shows better in the shady situation. Bluebells (hyacinthoides non scripta) Bugle (Ajuga reptans) the bronze variety ‘Atropurpurea’ is very attractive. Creeping Jenny (Lysimacha nummularia ‘Aurea’) Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) Epimedium versicolor – delicate looking green and red flecked foliage with small yellow spring flowers. Euphorbia – I don’t know which species are growing but they tolerate dry shade. Sap is an irritant. Ferns - various Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) Foxgloves are mainly biennials so to guarantee them appearing sow or plant every year. Foxgloves are used by naughty fairies. They give the flowers to foxes to wear on their paws so they can prowl silently round chickens. The marks on the blooms are their fingerprints. Poisonous Geraniums – Cranesbill G. macrorrhizum grows well in the shade - it has scented leaves originally used for oil of geranium. Also Two native or ‘wild flower’ varieties are reasonably happy: G. sanguineum and G. pratense. Hellebores (Helleborus niger) Christmas Rose or Black Hellebore and (Helleborus foetidus) Poisonous Hostas - various Ladies Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) Poisonous Lords and Ladies or Cuckoo Pint (Arum maculatum) Poisonous Lungwort (Pulmonaria officianalis) – attractive spotted leaves and pin
k flowers which turn blue at the end of the stems. Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) a strewing herb. Mint – various species Primroses (Primula vulgaris) Primroses have a magical quality, known in some places as fairy cups which fairies used for shelter in rainstorms. Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) – glossy dark ‘ruffs’ of leaves and clusters of starry white flowers in spring. Spreads happily forming clusters of dense ground cover. This is a traditional ‘strewing herb’ because the leaves develop a sweet hay scent when dried and can be used in pot pourri and herb pillows. Vinca - Periwinkle – I have Vinca minor, major and variegated form. Violets (Viola odorata) Wild Strawberries (Fragaria vesca) also known as the Alpine strawberry. Lovely fruits if the birds don’t get them first.
I do have other interests besides gardening and alcohol. For example . . . well . . . er . . Okay, let’s just concentrate on these two for the moment. And be thankful that they are so integrated. But of course this is a gardening op, so let me turn your attention to those majestic trees which from little acorns grow. And indeed they are majestic, which is why oak is generally an unsuitable tree for a smaller garden. Two which remain in manageable proportions are Quercus pontica (Armenian Oak), an oval-headed tree with very long leaves, and Quercus ilicifolia, which has smaller leaves, dark green above and greyish below. The latter gives particularly good autumn colour. Both grow to only about 6m (20ft), both are deciduous, and neither is particularly tolerant of exposed conditions. For those with a little more space, however, there are a number of interesting oaks to choose from. A good talking point is the Holm Oak (Quercus ilex), which is unusual in being evergreen. It holds on to its holly-like leaves throughout the winter. Give it space, though. It can eventually reach up to 25m (80ft). A particular favourite of mine is Quercus rubra (the Red Oak), which has dark green leaves turning a gorgeous reddish-brown in autumn. It dislikes lime in the soil, unlike most of its relatives, and can also reach 25m. Of particular conservation value (and you should always do your bit) are Quercus robur, the variously named English, Common, or Pendunculate Oak, and Quercus petraea, the Sessile, or Durmast Oak native to Scotland. The Sessile is taller, narrower, and hardier. The Pendunculate is simply the one everybody recognises as an oak tree. Nothing compares with these two oaks in terms of value for bugs and beasties. Oak is loved by lichens (you know, the grey furry mossy stuff you see on tree trunks and branches). And lichens provide a home and food for an enormous range of life forms, from mosses and fungi, through insect
s and spiders, to beetles and deer. Deer? Well, they don’t live in the lichen of course. But they do browse on it. Insects and butterflies feed on the twigs, leaves and flowers of the oak, and they in turn provide sustenance for a wide range of forest birds. So if you think your garden can accommodate a 30m (100ft) tree, plant one of our two native oaks, and give our wildlife a big helping hand. And if you want to do yourself a special favour, opt for the Sessile Oak. Yes, I’m moving on to the alcoholic bit. And I bet you thought I was going to mention oak casks and Chardonnay. Sorry, too obvious! Opt, as I say, for a sessile oak. When the leaves are just mature, pick 2 quarts, preferably in the morning, when the sun is shining. Put the leaves in a bucket, pour on boiling water, and once cooled add a Campden tablet. Leave for three days, stirring daily, then strain off the liquor and discard the leafy mush. Prepare a basic home-winemaking 5 gallons worth, using a white grape concentrate (I’m not going to tell you how to do that – this is a gardening op!). Add the oak leaf liquor and ferment out. Congratulations, you have made oak-leaf wine. (With due acknowledgement to the home winemakers bible : The Compleat Home Winemaker and Brewer, by Ben Turner. I feel a book op coming on.) PS Worried about all the bugs and beasties I mentioned earlier? Don’t be. They float to the surface after the first day’s fermentation, and you can skim them off!