English Oak Tree

Other names - Common Oak, Pedunculate Oak, European Oak

The English Oak is native to most of Western Europe. It is found in mixed woodland throughout the UK and is most common in the South and East. It’s an important feature of the English landscape, renowned for its longevity and noted for its distinctive leaves and groups of acorns. It is a long-lived tree with some examples over a thousand years old but in woodland, where it can grow to over 40m, it usually has a lifespan of about 300 years.

The leaves have 5-7 pairs of lobes, forming a typical wavy-edged outline; the upper surface is dark green and the underside is paler. It is closely related to the Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea). The leaves of the English Oak have very short or no stalk and the acorns long ones. The Sessile Oak is the opposite - its leaves have stalks but the acorns don't. This is where the names pedunculate and sessile come from.

The English Oak is very important for wildlife: Numerous insects live on the leaves, buds, and in the acorns and it supports the highest biodiversity of insect herbivores of any British plant (more than 400 species). The acorns form a valuable food resource for several small mammals, notably squirrels, and some birds, including Jays.

The English oak has assumed the status of a national emblem and is woven into history and folklore. Druids would worship in oak groves, couples would marry under their spreading branches and the Yule Log, decorated for Christmas with holly and mistletoe, was traditionally cut from oak.

Oaks produce one of the hardest and most durable timbers on the planet and the English Oak has always enjoyed a close association with the Royal Navy, whose ships were constructed from oak timbers until the middle of the 19th century, earning the Navy the nickname ‘the Wooden Walls of Old England’. Oak is still used in construction and to make barrels for wine and spirits.

Oaks in Foxley Wood

Most of of the oaks in the wood are in the higher parts, which is Ancient Woodland and has been here since before 1600. However, there are very few trees more than about 200 years old, indicating that the wood was managed for timber and underwood even then.

Both species and hybrids are present and there are several Sessile Oaks in Woodland Way. The oldest are pollards, especially the one in the narrow belt of woodland between Higher Drive and the Recreation Ground. The Friends of Foxley have planted many of both species of oaks in glades in the wood made by re-coppicing hazel or where trees have fallen making gaps in the canopy, and where the coppicing of the secondary woodland has been done below the lower path. The Friends have also cut wood from fallen trees to make boards for the benches. The wood from the 900 year old Roke Oak in Roke Road (removed for housing development) was rescued and brought here to provide continuity of habitat for any specialist organisms to which it was host.

Fun Facts

  • Only 1 in 10,000 acorns grow up to be an oak tree
  • "The Royal Oak" is the third most popular pub name in the UK
  • There have been eight warships called HMS Royal Oak, and ‘Heart of Oak’ is the official march of the Royal Navy

Written by Andrew Wood; for Friends of Foxley