Quercus robur – the English oak – is synonymous with strength, size and longevity. Despite its apparently random method of reproduction, oaks can grow to well over 30m and can live in excess of 1,000 years.
This deciduous broadleaf tree grows in Europe, North Africa, Asia Minor and the Caucasus. Of the species of tree native to Britain, the English or pedunculate oak is probably the most well-known and best-loved. This king of the forest can live for more than a millennium according to some sources, and grow up to 40m (125ft). Mature specimens are usually home to many species of wildlife. Quercus robur is named for its robust or sturdy nature and since iron tools were first made, people have been cutting down this mighty tree for its strong and durable timber. It can take as long as 150 years before an oak is ready to be used for construction purposes but it is well worth the wait.
Until the middle of the 19th century when iron became the material of choice for building ships, thousands upon thousands of oaks were felled every year. It was estimated that it took 2,000 trees to make a single ship, and eventually laws were passed to protect the oak.
For such a huge, long-living and widespread tree, the oak is surprisingly bad at reproducing naturally. Firstly, it can take a full 50 years before the tree has its first crop of acorns, the seed of the oak. Secondly, the overwhelming majority of the tens of thousands of acorns it drops are eaten by animals or simply rot. And so it is left to forgetful squirrels or jays to bury them for future consumption for the lifecycle of this giant of the countryside to continue.