(large, old white oak in Connecticut)
Oaks are very special trees, especially down here in Southern Illinois. For one, they are the most important tree for wildlife in most of temperate North America, their presence in the wild is often a good signifier of biodiversity and healthy soils. Oaks are generally large trees, with alternate, simple leaves--often lobed. In early spring, long, narrow clusters of tiny, yellow flowers hang from the twigs, on drooping catkins. They release large amounts of pollen into the wind, while the leaves are still immature. Female flowers are actually much smaller.
All oaks bear acorns, oval, thing shelled nuts partially surrounded by cups. Acorns have no poisonous look-alikes and are often difficult to identify between varieties since they hybridize. You can usually divide them into two groups: the Red Oak group has pointy-edged leaves. The insides of the nutshells are hairy.
Acorns in this group contain a lot of tannins, they are definitely the food of wildlife, non-domesticated animals. It can take days of leaching to remove the tannin from the Red Oak. Permaculture is about providing food for wildlife and humans, so planting a Red Oak is just as important as planting a Cherry tree. White Oaks has blunt-edged leaves and may bear acorns every year. The insides of the nutshells are hairless. It can take nearly 20-30 years for the Oaks to produce nuts and often this trees can grow up to 80-100ft tall.
Red Oak get their name from the pinkish innards of their bark, they typically grow around other Oaks and hardwoods (maples and hickory). It is commonly found in coves, ravines and well-draining, sloping valley floors with deep, well-draining loamy soils and lighter, sandier soils. Pick a partial to full Sun area, plant on a north facing or east facing slope, in well-drained soils. White Oaks This tree prefers rich, deep, moist, well-drained, acidic soils, but can adapt to occasionally wet soils, moderate drought and average soils, thriving in full to partial sun.
Pin Oaks grow 60-70 ft tall, with smooth gray bark, developing shallow, and dark fissures with age. Simple leaves arranged alternately on the twig, lobed with bristle tips, ranging from medium green in the summer to brown-russet in the fall. The flowers of pin oak emerge soon after new leaves unfold in spring. The acorns that develop are roundish, short stalked, 3/8 to 1/2 inches long, and capped with a thin and shallow saucer-like cup.
And Oaks are usually planted for the purpose of re-wilding, providing food and shelter for wildlife, and they’re native to this region. The acorns are edible, especially the White Oak acorns which you can harvest and pulverise them down into a flour. Often folk-recipes called for acorn flour in biscuits, breads, soups, stews, and pancakes. You can use the leaves in your pickling, as a way to keep the vegetable crisp, and to add flavour. Traditionally the bark had been used to treat diarrhea, colds, fevers, bronchitis, and stimulating appetites.