. . .Otherwise known as the Bur Oak. Regular readers here will recognize this tree as one I've shown on this blog several times, including this past August when, on a lark, I entered it in the "Gardening Olympics" sponsored by Idaho Gardener. To my surprise, it won a gold medal! Medalwinner or not, this is indeed a stately tree that sits at the front of our large yard, shading those who enter our driveway. Its age is unknown, but judging from its size it must be over 100 years old, making it a symbol of the permanence of the land, existing generations before us.
Until recently, I wasn't sure what type of oak it was--I thought it might be a white oak, the state tree of Illinois. But with the help of my friend, a high school biology teacher, I now know that it is a Bur Oak. In trying to identify the trees on our property, I've discovered that studying the leaves alone is not conclusive--you must often also look at the bark, the shape of the twig, and the fruit of the tree.
The Bur Oak's leaves are distinctive from other oaks, with a wide top that narrows at the bottom. But this can still be confusing. The telltale identifier of the Bur Oak, though, is its acorn. The acorn is larger than most other oaks, and its cap extends at least halfway down with a "conspicuous fringe," which accounts for its other name, Mossycup Oak.
The Bur Oak is a common tree in the Midwest, extending as far west as the Rockies and even as far south as Texas. It is billed as an excellent tree for urban planting because of its dense shade and resistance to air pollution and heat stress. Of course, it's not a tree you would plant for immediate shade--it is one of the slowest growing trees. But it makes up for this in size and in longevity. The Bur Oak can grow as tall as 70-80 feet, and as it ages it spreads horizontally, with a possible canopy of 80 feet or more in width. I have no idea how tall my tree is, but I did measure its circumference 4 feet above its base--it is about 17 feet around, give or take a few inches due to my tripping on the acorns underfoot. Because it can live for 200-300 years or more, it is a tree to plant for posterity.
I may not be able to claim the Quercus Macrocarpa as unique to Illinois--in fact, it is the state tree of Iowa--but I can admire its rich heritage and its quiet beauty. It has earned the name "Mighty Oak."
For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider,
every green tree is far more glorious
than if it were made of gold and silver.