You may have noticed #OAKtober floating around out there on the internet lately. In 2015, October was officially declared oak awareness month in Illinois, but why? Check out this blog post to learn about the ecological importance of oak trees and why we need to plant more oaks.
When I was a kid, the house we lived in had 4 huge oak trees, two in the front yard and two in the back. Most of my childhood memories in that house revolve around those trees. There was a rope swing hanging from one, and an intricate series of ropes from another that allowed us to easily climb to the highest possible point in the tree. These trees were a constant source of entertainment for us as kids from collecting acorns to raking up piles of leaves so we could jump in them. The shade they created also made our yard a more welcome place to play in the heat of the summer. I don’t think I ever truly appreciated those trees until we moved to a house in a more recently built neighborhood that had exactly zero trees planted.
Oak trees are suffering a dramatic decline both in residential landscapes as well as protected national forests. This is not just a problem within the Midwest. Many populations of oak trees are threatened not only nationally, but globally. The Missouri Department of Conservation sites several reasons for the decline of oaks in forests, namely, they have reached their life expectancy, they are growing in less than ideal soil conditions, and historical mistreatment of the land. All of these factors can weaken the trees and make them more susceptible to death from pests, disease, and severe weather. Furthermore, many home owners and commercial sites have swapped out the familiar oak trees of the past with native maples and invasive trees like the Bradford Pear. While I appreciate everyone’s fondness for planting a native maple, it is important that we plant a diversity of species and not just the same one over and over. Let’s add some more oak trees to the mix!
Having a strong emotional connection with the oak trees from my childhood, I found their decline unsettling. As it turns out, nostalgia is not the only reason I have to be concerned about the disappearing oaks. As a species, Oak trees support more than 500 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars. Compare that to an exotic Ginkgo tree that only supports 5 species. Losing our oak trees might inadvertently result in the loss of a large majority of those 500 species of caterpillars. Some of you might be thinking, so what, we don’t need 500 caterpillars. But those caterpillars feed the birds, and larger predators eat those birds, and so on. The ecosystem is such an intricately delicate system, that the loss of something as seemingly unimportant as a caterpillar could have bigger effects farther down the food chain. On a lighter note, the shade of the mighty oak tree can help reduce cooling costs in the summer months simply by providing buildings with shade.
Due to the decline of Oak trees in our national forests, now more than ever it is important to incorporate oak trees into our residential and commercial landscapes. Here at Home Nursery, we sell 4 of the 20 oak trees that are native to Illinois: Quercus macrocarpa (Burr Oak), Quercus rubra (Northern Red Oak), Quercus bicolor (Swamp White Oak), and Quercus alba (White Oak). These trees would be a great addition to any residential or commercial property, my 12-year-old self can definitely vouch for that. Help save the mighty oak and preserve our state tree; plant an oak this fall!
7gal Swamp White Oak trees at Home Nursery's
main farm in Albers, IL
“The Mighty Oak: Oak Trees of the Chicago Region.” Hendricksen Tree Care Services, Tree Care, 3 May 2018, www.rwhendricksenco.com/the-mighty-oak-trees-of-the-chicago-region/.
“Oak Decline in Missouri.” Missouri Department of Conservation, mdc.mo.gov/trees-plants/diseases-pests/oak-decline-missouri.
Phipps, Jan. “What You Need to Know About Illinois Oak Trees.” Illinois Farm Bureau Partners, 9 July 2018, www.ilfbpartners.com/farm/what-you-need-to-know-about-illinois-oak-trees/.
Steeples, Chris. “Illinois Issues: State's Oaks Squeezed Out by Other Species.” NPR Illinois, 29 Sept. 2015, www.nprillinois.org/post/illinois-issues-state-s-oaks-squeezed-out-other-species#stream/0.
“Why Native Plants Matter.” Audubon, 18 May 2017, www.audubon.org/content/why-native-plants-matter.