Oak (Quercus robor and Q. petrea; Dair or Darroch in Gaelic)

Oaks are possibly the best known and most readily identified Scottish tree. Their long leaves with sinuously curved lobes are like no others and their cupped acorns or hard round ‘oak apples’ (galls caused by an insect) often become playthings for young children. The true native of Scotland is the Sessile Oak (Quercus petrea). It is distinguished from the English Oak (Quercus robor) by the absence of stalks on the acorns. Oak trees are associated with strength and endurance, and in some people’s minds, with mystery. This could hark back to ancient Druidic times when the tree seems to have had particular magical significance.

It is hard not to revere a well-grown oak. There’s an old saying that the tree takes ‘Three hundred years to grow, three hundred years to live, and three hundred years to die.’ It’s not far from the truth. The estate-planted oaks at Dalkeith Park are known to be 700 years old and still thriving, and the Capon Tree at Jedburgh is thought to be more than 1,000 and still has lusty growth.

Oaks are renowned for harbouring more wildlife species than any other tree, from bacteria and fungi, through a multitude of insects, to birds and mammals. The bryophite-rich oaks of the West Coast, festooned with lichens, ferns and mosses, are part of the Atlantic Rainforest and are a particularly important example of this diversity.

Timber from oaks has been valued since Prehistoric times, when it seems that, even before crops were much cultivated, the trees may were managed for their strong, durable, and easy-to-cleave wood. House and boat-building claimed many Scottish oak forests in the past, with too few being replanted. For some time in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries woods like those around Loch Maree were coppiced to provide the charcoal needed for iron smelting. The grown-out stems of these trees can still be seen in places, such as the highest level of Plora Wood near Traquair, where the many twisted stems give away this old method of management. They make great trees to climb!

BFT is almost always in need of more oaks to plant. The trees only set acorns every so often, in what is called a ‘mast’ year. When the Seed Collection group hears that there are good acorns to be had, trips are made, often to Galloway, where the climate and elevation are the best match for our sites, and where there are stands of fairly pure Sessile Oak. Most trees elsewhere in southern Scotland are hybrids, fine for many purposes, but getting the pure species matters for sites like Carrifran. On that site, oaks are still being added as ‘enrichment planting’ and those originally planted are thriving, with some of them now setting their own acorns. All seed collection trips have to be with land owner consent and the full knowledge of Scottish Forestry. For this reason, BFT would not be able to accept your own collection of acorns but if you would like to become a seed collector, please contact enquiries@bordersforesttrust.org