White Oak Notecard

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White Oak (Quercus alba)

Traditionally, the oak tree symbolizes wisdom, strength and courage. In Celtic myth, the oak is the guardian that stands between worlds; the oak was believed to be the gate from our world to the world of Faerie. For the ancient Druids, oak leaves offered the power to heal and renew strength. Acorns were believed to offer the power of prophecy. Many also believed that by carrying an acorn, one could preserve youth and gain protection, luck and a healthy life.

The White Oak (Quercus alba) is native and abundant in much of the eastern United States and extending into southern Canada. The White Oak grows tall, 80–100 feet; in open fields and pastures it is distinctive, with sturdy limbs spread wide, often wider than its height. In forests, the White Oak takes on a straight, slender appearance, with limbs reaching into the forest canopy. The White Oak is easily recognizable. The “white” (or alba) of the White Oak’s name refers to the lightness of the tree’s pale ashen-gray bark. In mature trees, the bark is slightly fissured, forming plates that overlap like scales. The leaves of the White Oak have deeply rounded lobes; they are green and glossy in summer, turning rusty red to brown in late autumn. The White Oak bears acorns that are small, held in shallow bowl-like cups. The acorns fall in early October. The wood of the White Oak is close-grained and strong, and is renowned for the beauty of its texture and rich color.

The White Oak provides a favorite nesting place for many birds, especially those whose nests, like the ruby-throated hummingbird, are light-colored. The acorns of the White Oak feed nearly all the herbivorous birds and mammals in its range, from songbirds to wild turkeys, from chipmunks and squirrels to raccoons, deer and bears. The White Oak has been valued by people for its acorns as a food source, for its wood, and for its remarkable beauty. For those who live alongside it, the White Oak offers a sense of strength and of nurturance, of protection and security.

The oldest White Oaks that we see can reach an age of 800 years or more; our human lives register in these trees as just a portion of their own. In its long and sacred life, the oak evokes for us both the power of the mystical and a profound respect for nature. In these trees, we recognize what is recalled in myth: the strength, guardianship and wisdom of the oak.

artwork by Camille Doucet © 2008 

text by Gigi Marks

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