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Plant Focus

Quercus douglasii is an endemic California oak tree, affectionately called “the blue oak”.

Book Review: The Glorious Life of the Oak

Glorious Life of the Oak
The Glorious Life of the Oak.
John Lewis-Stempel, Doubleday, London, 2017. 348 Pages.

How many of us have walked past a tree without giving it a second thought?

John Lewis-Stempel had just this experience when searching for his wayward terrier one December night. No longer will he pass them by.

His research led him to discover that there are 115 oaks in England with a girth >9 meters, but only 96 in the whole of the rest of Europe.

More importantly, he finds that the mature oak can be the home to upwards of a thousand different species: more than any other plant.

He explores the use of oak in detail, particularly in the shipbuilding industry, and determines the earliest record of oak plantation to be in Windsor Great Park in 1580 by order of Queen Elizabeth I. Members of the IOS who attended the Conference in Winchester in 2003 may have visited Windsor Great Park and seen some of these—now sadly declining—plants with their own eyes.

John Dryden (1631-1700) summed up the life of the oak in these lines:

The monarch oak, the patriarch of the trees,
Shoots rising up, and spreads by slow degrees;
Three centuries he grows, and three he stays,
Supreme in state; and in three more decays.1

The author carries on to describe the mechanisms by which oaks are propagated by all nature of bird or rodent, noting that tannin stored in the bark can be released as a vapor when the tree is under threat.

I will not dwell on the next chapters, which detail the oak in the four phases of the year; after all the purpose of writing this note is to encourage you to buy.

1 Palamon and Arcite, Book III