Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Big Black Oak

Quercus velutina


Big black oak treeThis summer, a tree fell in the yard of a country church in our neighborhood. Since all the church members are elderly, my husband volunteered to clean it up if we could have the firewood. We've gone over there several mornings recently to work on it.

Right away, I noticed a big oak tree growing in the border of trees and brush behind the church. And since I am a little obsessed with identifying trees, I wanted to know what sort of oak it is.

I confess that I usually don't approach tree identification in a logical manner (that is, with a tree identification key.) I pluck a leaf, get out the field guides, and try to match a photo to the leaf in my hand.

Black oak leaves (?)With this oak, I couldn't possibly reach high enough to pick a leaf. The best I could do was zoom in on the foliage with my camera.

Based on the the bark of the tree and the best leaf images from my zoomed-in photo, I think this is a black oak (Quercus velutina Lam.)

The leaves in my photo don't look much like the black oak leaves in some of my books. The books show a leaf that has deeply cut sinuses between the lobes, rather like a pin oak. However, the leaves in my photo look very similar to the black oak leaf in Trees & Shrubs of Kentucky (see info about this book at the bottom of this column.)

Bark of black oakThe Virginia Department of Forestry page about black oaks contains the following explanation about the leaves: "... sun leaves have deep sinuses between lobes, and shade leaves have very shallow sinuses..."

The bark on this tree is dark in color and deeply furrowed as black oak bark is said to be. I could -- but won't -- chip off a piece of bark and see if the inner bark is orange or yellow. That's a distinguishing characteristic for black oaks. The yellow inner bark was once used for dye. I suppose that's why a second common name for the tree is "yellow oak."

After giving this tree a couple of "hugs", I estimate that its trunk is over ten feet in circumference. I am not good at estimating height, so I'll just say that it's a tall tree.

This property has been occupied by a Methodist Church since 1870. The word "Grove" is part of the church's name. It's pleasant to imagine that this tree may be a surviving member of the grove that was here when the church was organized and named.

2 comments -- please add yours:

Chris said...

Good detective work!

Genevieve said...

Hi, Chris. Actually, I think this is the first black oak I've ever looked at closely.

I know a grove of oaks a few miles from here that an old man told me are black oaks, but I've never had a chance to really check them out. So it was interesting to come up with this ID for this tree.

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

Photos and text copyright © 2006-2010 by Genevieve L. Netz. All rights reserved. Do not republish without written permission. My e-mail address is gnetz51@gmail.com