There are around 500 species of oak that are surprisingly related to the beech family. Of all the trees in Britain and Ireland the oak is considered king. The oak is known as a keystone species that play a critical role in maintaining the structure of an ecological community. Most oak trees live around 100-150 years, however there are a few that are known to be around 2,000 years old.
The Druids frequently worshipped and practised their rites in oak groves. The word Druid may derive from a Celtic word meaning “knower of the oak tree”.
Oak was also favoured for its strength and durability. It was a core part of the distinctive Tudor timbered houses, that gave the UK its chocolate box look. They say that in building, if you give oak a good hat and boots, it will last for a thousand years.
Artists used its even-grained, honey-coloured beauty for carving and turning. The bark was valued by the leather tanning industry as it contains a lot of tannin. During the Industrial Revolution large amounts were sent from northwest Scotland to Glasgow for this purpose. The bark also yields a brown dye, and oak galls gave the strong black dye from which ink was made. And of course, woodworkers like me make all sorts of furniture from oak; come and see my living room, hall, bedrooms, bathroom….
A tonic could be derived from boiling the bark that was used to treat harness sores on horses. Country-people frequented the oak for its curative powers, which in some places was considered so great that healing could occur simply by walking around the tree and wishing the ailment to be carried off by the first bird alighting on its branches. Strangely enough, a few local people have told me that this particular oak sits on a Ley Line.
I love looking for the Knopper galls on oak trees. They develop as a chemically induced distortion of growing acorns caused by gall wasps which lay eggs in buds.