Sunday, October 25, 2009

Burly Tree

By Jenna Burleigh

While on assignment for Cardinal Points, I came across an interesting story regarding the uncertain futures of two of the oldest trees on campus. Not nearly as impressive as they may have once been, the trunks of both trees wore scars from pervious battles with chain saws. But damaged and scarred as they were, the trees still held a certain character about them. They are bur oaks.

The bur oak is found extensively across The United States, stretching from Maine to Montana, and south to Texas. The spread of the oak is representative of its ability to survive in different environments.

Resistant to drought, the bur oak is a deciduous tree can live in arid as well as moist regions. It is also tolerant of different soil types, and is an efficient user of water, according to this article. Within its first growing season, a bur oak’s roots can penetrate the soil up to more than four feet. Fast root development and good water use could explain why this tree can be found in many different soil-types and climates.

The bur oak is aptly named for the shape of its acorns. They are about the size of a golf ball, growing up to two inches long, with bristly whisker-looking “burs” that wrap around the top and sides of the acorn. The bur oak can grow to be over 100 feet high or wide (the crown, not the trunk), according to this article. The acorns of this oak are the largest of all native oaks in North America.

The bur oak, or Quercus macrocarpa, begins to produce seed after 35 years, and can seed up to 400 years or older (Quercus, meaning oaks, and macrocarpa, the “macro” referring to the size of its unusually large acorns). The acorns fall, either on their own or with a little help from hungry squirrels, and can immediately begin germination or remain dormant until the next spring.

After discovering how hardy this species of tree is and how much they can survive, I was a little disheartened to learn that these trees may need to be destroyed in order to make room for more construction projects on campus. Humans appear to be one factor this natural wonder cannot endure.


  1. Jenna, nice blog. How old are the bur oaks on campus?

  2. According to our college historian, the trees are about 150 years old.