The oak tree once formed a third of all tree cover in Britain. An important tree, the oak was once held sacred by the Druids, and has always had many practical uses. There are two main species of oak – the English or pendunculate oak, known in Latin as Quercus robur, and the sessile oak, called Quercus petraea.
Facts about oak
Uses: From the early days, its strong and durable timber was found to be ideal for shipbuilding and for making timber frames of buildings. The tannin in its bark was also used for tanning leather. Even the sawdust was, and still is, used for smoking food.
Today, oak timber is used to make furniture, barrels and is also planted for its conservation value. In western areas, sessile oak is the more common species.
Seeds: Most oaks do not produce acorns until they are over 50 years old. The oak’s acorns are carried on long stalks or ‘peduncles’.
Flowers: The female flowers are on stalks - a feature characteristic of the English oak that distinguishes it from the closely related sessile oak.
Bark: An oak tree’s bark becomes fissured with age.
Height: This broad spreading tree can reach up to 30 metres in Scotland.
Supporting insect species: 500
Lifespan: 800 years
Natural range: Europe & Asia Minor
Famous oak trees
- Birnam oak
This ancient tree stands on the banks of the River Tay and the wood to which it once belonged, was immortalised in the words of Shakespeare in the play Macbeth. Today the Birnam oak is all that remains of that woodland and it’s long horizontal limbs reach out from it’s sizable 5.5 metre girth.
- Neil Gow’s oak
The much-loved Scottish fiddler Neil Gow (1727-1807) is said to have composed many of his melodies whilst reclining against this old sessile oak. You can find this one on the banks of the River Tay too.