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Michael Eason hiking in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to observe Washingtonia filifera in situ
Currently at San Antonio Botanic Garden, Michael's work has...
Amy Byrne | Feb 15, 2023
An exhibition that beautifully depicts and locates oaks
Roderick Cameron | Feb 09, 2023
Burke Oak Collection at New York Botanical Garden
The Coleman and Susan Burke Oak Collection at The New York...
Todd Forrest | Feb 08, 2023

Plant Focus

Quercus xjackiana acorns
The hybrid of Q. alba and Q. bicolor

The Oak Societies

Charles II and his aide-de-camp Major Careless hiding in the Royal Oak, print from the book "Boscobel: or, The Royal Oak", by William Harrison Ainsworth. Source: Project Gutenberg

It may surprise you to learn that we are not the first Oak Society! Another Oak Society used to meet at the Crown and Anchor pub on the Strand in London, and was altogether more subversive than ours. But you have to put yourself back to troubled, treacherous, and treasonable times when certain elements of society, encouraged by sympathetic leaders on the continent of Europe, were plotting to overthrow the British government. And no, I’m not talking about last week.

Every British schoolchild knows the story of how the future King Charles II hid from Cromwell’s “Roundhead” troops in a hollow oak at Boscobel during the English civil war, and survived to gain the throne (an event which also spawned countless “Royal Oak” pubs). The Stewart dynasty had ruled in Scotland since the 14th century and Robert the Bruce, but James VI of Scotland was able to combine the crowns of both Scotland and England (becoming James I of England). Charles II was the third of this combined (and respelled “Stuart”) line, but when he died his younger brother James succeeded him (as James VII of Scotland and James II of England). James had converted to Catholicism, and to avoid a Catholic succession he was eventually deposed by the nobility in favour of his Protestant daughter Mary and her Dutch husband William of Orange (the so-called “Glorious Revolution”), and went into exile in France. If you are still with me so far, then let’s finally get onto the oaky seam in this history.

The Oak Society medal, 1750: Prince Charles Edward Stuart and "the stricken oak", below the motto "Revirescit" (it grows green again, it revives). Source: www.christophereimer.co.uk

Since Boscobel, the oak had become a symbol of the Stuart dynasty, and on the succession of William and Mary medals were struck showing a dead oak next to a flourishing orange tree. However, the orange didn’t flourish for long, hardly the climate for it, and the British throne passed in turn to Mary’s sister, Anne, and then, as none of her children survived, to the Hanoverian dynasty. During all this time various Jacobite (= Latin for James) escapades had attempted to reinstall James or his heirs on the throne, leading to the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland and culminating in the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie, aka the Young Pretender, aka Charles Edward Stuart, at Culloden, Scotland, in 1745; both events held in painful memory by some even today. One of the various secret Jacobite symbols was the “stricken oak”, a dying oak with a vigorous young shoot. And thus the Oak Society – a fifth-column cell of Jacobite sympathisers in London, morphing with age and history into a polite gentleman’s club.

Quercus miquihuanensis acorns, Arboretum de la Bergerette, Saint Sardos, France.

Hopefully less contentious, a story about acorn viability:

In autumn 2016, in expectation of a visit by a local group of plant enthusiasts, I put ripe acorns of Quercus variabilis and Q. miquihuanensis (known as Micky to his friends who, like me, can’t pronounce his name) in plastic zip-sealed bags to offer to the visitors, as both these are in my “top ten” oaks for general planting (ie. for non-oak-obsessives). A few were taken, but the majority remained in the bags, and rather then throw them away I returned them to my refrigerator exactly as they were – that is to say with no moist substrate but with merely their own internal moisture content, and with no holes in the bag to allow atmospheric exchange. Incidentally, the “Mickies” might well have been collected straight from the shrub, and thus free from soil-based microbes, but the Q. variabilis were certainly picked from the ground. To my surprise, this summer (2018) both species were seen to be germinating, and were given to a visiting seedsman who informs me that the variabilis are already 30 cm tall. I would imagine that the important points here are that the low storage temperatures inhibited the loss of viability due to enzyme action; the sealed bags preserved exactly the initial moisture content; whilst the lack of surface moisture discouraged fungal attack.