Outstanding Oak Tree Facts
Want to grow an oak tree? Depending on the source, the Quercus genus contains between 500 and 600 species worldwide. That means a lot from which to choose. At least 60 species grow in North America, with the white oak designated as Illinois’ state tree.
Why Plant an Oak Tree
Often, oaks anchor plant communities around which interactive mini-ecosystems thrive. They provide shade and shelter to understory plants, small and large mammals, birds, and insects. Squirrels and birds eat small nut varieties, while deer, turkey and boar eat larger acorns. Birds and small mammals nest in the protective canopy, and ubiquitous insects provide food for the birds and help in pollinating the oak’s flowers.
Oak trees also help with your local pollinator population. At a seminar I recently attended, Des Moines Botanical Garden director Kelly Norris said that oak trees support 534 butterfly and moth pollinators.
Three Favorite Oak Tree Varieties
1. White Oak
White oak (Quercus alba) lives long, exhibits beautiful scarlet foliage in the fall, reaches 50 to 80 feet tall, and grows relatively slowly. In fact, white oaks comprise many of the historic landmark trees in the northeastern United States.
2. Bur Oak
Another hardy to Illinois oak, the bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) tolerates drought and adapts to a variety of habitats. It reaches 50 to 80 feet high and up to 90 feet wide in ideal conditions. The decorative fringing on the acorns makes it a popular tree.
3. Chinkapin Oak
Chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) also adapts well to a variety of growing sites including mountains, desert canyons and flood plains. It tolerates alkaline soil better than other large oaks, making it a good choice for many places in Illinois.