When we began tree farming, one of the first things we did was plant 500 white oak trees in former horse pastures.
White oaks were chosen because they are native to S.C. and commonly live for two centuries and longer, both highly desirable traits for our goal of creating a “legacy forest.”
White oaks are also an excellent choice for supporting wildlife. Their abundant crops of palatable acorns provide valuable food for turkeys, rabbits, squirrels, deer, wood ducks and numerous bird species. Birds like woodpeckers and nuthatches find insects beneath the flaky bark. Deer eat the dried leaves during cold months.
The white oak, Quercus alba, is a majestic tree which can soar to over 100 feet high. Even in dense woods, the crown is wide spreading, making it a valuable shade tree. Stout branches often grow perpendicular to the massive trunks, and it is not unusual for these trees to grow as wide as they are tall. Its longevity and grandeur have inspired the citizens of Connecticut, Maryland and Illinois to designate the white oak their state tree.
The wood of the white oak turns a yellowish color as it dries. It is very hard and strong with a characteristic cellular structure that makes it rot- and water-resistant and thus ideal for making tight barrels for whiskey and wine. This use has prompted some to call the tree a “stave oak.” The high grade wood has long been important in construction, especially for flooring and the interior finishes of Craftsman-style houses. Gustav Stickley chose white oak for his famous mission-style furniture, while tool makers use it for agricultural implements.
In earlier times, white oak was essential to shipbuilding. Notably, it was used for planking beneath the waterline on the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides.” When replacement lumber is needed to repair the great ship, it comes from white oaks growing in the special “Constitution Grove” at the Naval timber reserve in Crane, Ind.
— Joanna Angle is a 30-year resident of Chester County and a Master Tree Farmer. She has previously directed the Olde English District Tourism Commission, produced and hosted “Palmetto Places” for SCETV and helped establish the Chester campus of York Technical College.