Friday, August 31, 2012

The English French Oak, or the French English Oak

Species name: Quercus robur

Common name: English oak, French oak

Location: Ontario

Luckily, given the common name, this plant is native to most of Europe and parts of North Africa. I'm glad I didn't have to come up with some kind of creative way to explain why it's named the way it is! Despite being a common natural species in European woodlands, it has never truly made its way into North America as a popular ornamental plant unlike the many others that have. North Americans will see this plant in the odd garden, but it never achieves great height here so is not planted as a shade tree; that's one of the qualities that makes for a popular non-native ornamental tree. Fast growth to provide shade quickly, and growing to be a large size to provide shade across a large area.

In Europe this species is commonly planted for lumber use, as it produces very hard heartwood with a desirable grain pattern. It is used most often in fine furniture, and is also sometimes used in hardwood flooring. As an ornamental there have been about 15 hybrids created for various desirable characteristics, from dwarf characteristics to a "creeping" stature similar to a weeping willow.

As a symbol, this tree is very important across much of Europe. In Britain, it is the national emblem and is often used by the royal family as an emblem (where it gets another of its common names, the Royal oak). The Royal Oak is the name of 547 different pubs across Britain (all owned by different people!), and has been the name of at least eight Royal Navy ships. There is a rather famous specimen of this tree (sometimes referred to as the Carroll Oak) growing at Birr Castle in Ireland that is 6.5 m in circumference, and is estimated to be over 400 years old! That's an old tree.