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white oak

The white oak (Quercus alba) is a North American tree. It is the most common kind of tree in eastern America where it is used for wood and shade. Most are not really white but grey. In the fall its leaves turn a beautiful deep wine red and then turn brown and fall off.

In America the white oak is the state tree of Maryland, Connecticut and Illinois. You can see one on the back of a coin: the Connecticut quarter.

Like other oaks, it produces its seed as a nut called an acorn. Acorns die in the cold of winter and cannot grow into an oak in deep shade. Therefore they need squirrels to gather them and bury them elsewhere.

Their acorns have a sweet taste, as acorns go. The squirrels bury them to eat in the winter. What they do not eat can grow into new oaks in the spring. Birds and other woodland creatures also like acorns.

Most white oaks do not produce acorns till age 50, producing about 10,000 a year. Most of these are eaten or damaged.

Men like white oaks for their wood. The wood is hard, strong and straight and lasts for a long time, so it is great for building. It has a light brown colour. It can be bent to make ships. It is also good for wood fires.

Its leaves have rounded parts that stick out, kind of like short fingers. It is green, sometimes close to blue. Deer like to eat them. So do some insects.

Range: The white oak grows almost everywhere in eastern America north-east of Houston, Texas and south-west of Bangor, Maine. It does not grow in Canada except in the south part of Ontario and in a bit of Quebec.

In terms of latitude and longitude, they grow between 30 and 45 degrees north and 70 to 95 degrees west.

White oaks do not grow well outside this range because it is too dry to the west, too cold to the north and too wet to the south.

Some have been taken to the tropics where they can grow in the mountains. They do not exist overseas or even in California.

They do not grow well near the sea, near a road, in cities, on a cold, high mountain or where it floods often.

Planting: It is best to plant in the fall, but spring is good too. Acorns need to be buried in loose soil, but not very deep. They take root almost right away. There should be a bit of shade but not too much – at least a third of the light should be full sunlight. They do well on land that is facing north or east.

White oaks have deep roots, so they grow well in all kinds of soil. The deep roots get them through times of little rain but they make them hard to move.

White oaks grow slowly, even for oaks, but live for 200 years, sometimes as long as 600 years.

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