The Oak Tree

In this particular post, we are going to talk about the Oak tree, or more specifically the English Oak tree, and how we can use it. The Oak is one of those classic English trees, its a recognisable name, and most people will have things in their house that are made from Oak. How can it be used though? Well in this post we will go over some interesting uses, and what makes it special.

How to spot it

Before we can use it, we have to be able to identify it. There are some distinctive points about the Oak tree, to help you distinguish it from other trees. The Oak is a large tree, about 20m-40m tall when fully grown. It is also deciduous, so it loses it’s leaves in the autumn. When the Oak gets older it forms a broad crown on top, so no spike. It grows big sturdy branches underneath, so overall it forms a nice rounded tree, which is quite distinctive. The canopy it forms is actually really good at letting light through, so you generally find lots of plants growing underneath them; these can include primroses and bluebells, and other woodland floor plants. Young oaks have quite smooth and silvery bark, but as they get older, they get huge cracks and crevices throughout, this is a great way to differentiate from other trees.

The leaves are also pretty recognisable, they tend to be about 10cm long, with 4 or 5 big deep rounded lobes along the edges, these are smooth. Be aware though, that the amount of lobes can change between different forms of oak, in fact this is one big way of differentiating between them. The leaves generally don’t have much in the way of a stem, and grow in bunches, close together. They really grow around mid may. The Oak also flowers, the long yellow hanging catkins distribute pollen into the air. In the winter, the tree can be identified by bunches of rounded buds, with each bud having 3 or more scales.

Technically the Oak has fruits, although we know them as acorns. They are generally 2-2.5cm long, on fairly long stalks, and have a little cup that they sit in (called a cupule). While they grow  they are a green colour, but as they ripen they become a more autumnal brown. At this point they loosen from the cupule and fall to the floor. Anyone who has walked around an oak tree knows there can be many of them. These acorns are a rich food source, so they don’t hang around long. Many wild creatures come along to feast on them, like squirrels, jays and mice. For them to germinate, they need to root quickly, before they dry out.

The Oak is generally found in the northern hemisphere, in cool regions as well as tropical climates. In England they are found in southern and central woods.

Why are They Useful?

In terms of wildlife, the Oak tree is rich in biodiversity, and arguably support more life forms than any other tree native to Britain. In the autumn the falling acorns are often eaten by badgers and deer. These acorns are technically edible, but read up on ways to prepare them first, they contain tannins, which should really be removed before eating. 10,000 years ago, humans used acorns to make flour. Also during autumn, beetles and fungi take advantage of the fallen leaves. The leaves are soft, and break down easily, forming a rich environment underneath the tree. Birds are often found nesting in the Holes that the Oak’s bark provides, bats also use some of these holes, mainly due to the rich supply of insects.

The Oak tree has forever been known as a hard and durable timber, even it’s latin name Quercus Robur means strength. So it has been used for centuries as a building material, up until the 19th century, it was the primary ship building material. Unfortunately, it takes up to 150 years before an oak is ready to be used in construction. For those who want to tan leather, the bark of the Oak contains Tannin, and has been used for this purpose since roman times. This Tannic acid is also found in it’s leaves, and is poisonous to horses, and humans, damaging the kidneys.

If you wanted to plant your own acorn, it needs to be as soon as it falls to stop it drying out, if its right, a sapling should arrive the following spring.

Best Uses for an Oak Tree

For the keen bushcrafter, here is the main uses for oak trees.

  • Harvesting acorns, although these need to be processed before edible, its a great free source of food.
  • Plenty of insects to eat living in the tree, they also attract squirrels, birds, badgers and deer. So depending on how brave you are, there could be some good meals to be found.
  • Strong wood, things like digging sticks, tools, or anything that needs strength or impact resistance.
  • The inner bark of a dead branch is a good tinder.
  • The leaves do not rot very fast, and are often the last left on the forest, so could be used for shade, huts, or maybe even flooring.
  • The wood is good to burn for a fire. It burns wells, and produces a heat good enough for cooking.
  • The tannin found all over the tree is good for stopping bleeding, it does it by making the capillaries contract.

My First Post About Plymouth – The Early Ages

So I have been living in Plymouth as a student for the past few years, studying at Plymouth University. It’s a great place, but I realised I don’t really know anything about it, or it’s history. So I have decided to start finding it out. I intend to post all the interesting stuff I find out here on my blog.

Where better to start that.. well the start! Or at least as far back as is recorded. The early history of the Plymouth area.

There have been many excavations and archaeological digs conducted over the years, with one of the most notable by Barry Cuncliff in 1988. During excavations in local caves in the Mount Batten area, Homo Sapiens were found, along with artefacts dating from the bronze age through to iron age. According to Cuncliff, this shows that it was one of the main trading ports of the country at that time. He goes on to state that Mount Batten was the site of the earliest trade with Europe yet discovered in bronze age Britain.

Ptolemy’s Geographia talks about an unidentified settlement named “TAMARI OSTIA” which translates to mouth/estuaries of the river Tamar. This could be the the location of the modern city of Plymouth, it could also be Mount Batten, or even potentially the settlement of Plympton just up the river.

The modern name of Plymouth is thought to have come from the fact it is at the mouth of the river  Plym. Just up the river is the old town of Plympton, was recorded as Plymentun circa 900. There are many theories about where this name comes from, some say its from the old english word for “plum tree” (ploumenn). Other theories include the Latin for tin (Plumbum), or the Cornish word for lead (Plomm). All we know is that the first recorded name for the river was the Plyme in 1238. About this time are the first recorded name of Plymouth as a settlement (Plymmue in 1230, and Plimmuth in 1234). Previous to this though, and area known as Plym Mouth was noted in a Pipe roll in 1211. 

Plympton was at one point an early trading port, up until around the early 11th century, when the river became very silted, and forced merchants and mariners to trade instead in modern day Plymouth, around the area of the Barbican, much closer to the rivers mouth. At this time there was only a village there called Sutton, an old English word meaning “south town”. Although the town has been mentioned in many documents, Plymouth officially replaced the name Sutton in a Charter of King Henry VI in 1440.

I hope you find my first post about Plymouth informative, and interesting. I plan on doing quite a few of these posts, comments would be appreciated, and ideas that people want would also be great. Thanks for reading.