What is thought to be the oldest white oak tree in the country “grew up” right here in New Jersey, on Oak Street in Basking Ridge, next to the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church and Cemetery – a final resting place for Revolutionary War veterans. Arborists had originally estimated that the tree had been there long before the church was built, way back in 1717. The tree unfortunately died and was cut down in April of 2017. After being cut, it was proven to be 619 years old! After being cut down, an approximately 8,400 pound, 5-foot-tall massive chunk of wood taken from the historic great white oak tree was saved to live on as a memorial in Basking Ridge.*
Oak trees belong to the Quercus genus tree species, with estimates of between 600-800 species (some hybrids) throughout the world. About 90 varieties are native to the United States, which houses the widest varieties of species. While we typically think of oaks as huge, towering trees with beautiful fall color, oaks come in a variety of types, shapes and sizes; some oaks are deciduous, others are evergreen, and forms range from shrubby to majestic.
A mature oak tree can reach a height of almost 150 feet and can live for over 1,000 years. The tannic acid found on acorns and the tree’s leaves help protect them from insects and fungi that could possibly harm them, and the tree’s bark is naturally rot and fire-resistant, aiding to the oak’s longevity. Oak trees are considered old when they reach 700 years of age and most don’t even start to produce acorns until they are about 50 years old.
Throughout its lifetime, an oak tree can produce about 10 million acorns, with irregular cycles of acorn production. High producing years, called “mast years,” occur every 2-5 years, and a tree can produce 10,000 acorns in a single mast year. Only about 1 in 1,000 acorns becomes a tree, so most acorns serve as food for a variety of animals. More than 100 vertebrate species in the U.S. eat acorns, including deer, gray and red squirrels, chipmunks, bears, wild turkeys, crows, rabbits, opossums, blue jays, quail, raccoons and wood ducks.
Oak trees support more butterflies and moths than any other native and non-native tree – over 500 species in total. The trees support insect life, including beneficial insects, providing songbirds with a vital food source. Because of their size, oaks require a lot of space. If you have the room and are considering adding an oak to your landscape, ensure there are no obstructions anywhere around the planting site – this includes avoiding spots where there are power lines overhead, not planting above septic tanks, or underground utilities, and keeping in mind that the tree’s roots can grow 5X the area of its canopy, so sidewalks, streets, driveways, etc., all need to be taken into consideration when determining a planting site.
New Jersey’s native oaks fall into two groups; white oaks, which have rounded leaf lobes and red oaks that have sharply-pointed leaf lobes. Oaks with leaves that are unlobed -where the main veins terminate as a small bristle – are also considered red oaks. Northern Red Oak (our state tree) Black Oak, Scarlet Oak, Pin Oak, White Oak, White Swamp Oak, Chestnut Oak, Bear Oak and Dwarf Chinquapin Oaks are widespread in New Jersey. Southern Red Oak, Post Oak, Willow Oak and Blackjack Oaks are common locally but don’t range much farther north. Here’s an overview of some of New Jersey’s more popular oaks:
Week 1 in Review
If you missed week one, you can find it here – where we explored the Black Oak, the Swamp White Oak and the Chestnut Oak.
Week 2 in Review
This week, read on as we explored the Bear Oak, the Dwarf Chinquapin Oak and the Southern Red Oak!
Week 3 in Review
This week, read on as we explore the Post Oak, the Willow Oak and the Blackjack Oak!
Week 4 – Our Final Week
This week, read on as we explore the Pin Oak, the White Oak and the Northern Red Oak!
*To read more about the memorial, head on over to this article from 2018 from The Patch – 8,400 Pound Memorial Created from Basking Ridge’s Great Oak Tree