The oak tree is synonymous with the ancient forests of Europe; the ancient oak lives an extremely long life and has probably stood witness to many events in history.
The term oak (Quercus) can be used to describe a multitude of trees but the most ancient of oak trees is the common oak (Quercus robur); this ancient tree dominated European forests, standing beside pine and other trees, for centuries and, as a single oak tree can live for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, there are many lone oak trees still standing today, survivors of a historical past.
Characteristics of the Oak Tree
The oak tree is found in many countries across Europe through to Asia in the east and the Mediterranean in the south, where citrus trees are often thought of as more common. Oak trees can be deciduous (common in Europe) or evergreen (mainly found in North America and warmer climates).
There are over 600 species of oak throughout the world. The ancient oak has flowers which bloom in the spring, in the form of catkins, and leaves arranged in a spiral shape; the fruit of the oak tree is the acorn which may take between 6 and 18 months to mature. The essence of Oak is used as part of Bach Flower therapy.
The Oak: a Symbol of Strength
The oak tree is a large tree and has symbolized strength for many countries which have adopted it as their national tree; these countries include England, France, Germany, Poland and the United States. Species of the oak are also the state trees of Georgia and New Jersey.
The oak tree’s strength has made it tolerant to many threats such as drought and disease. It has also been used extensively for its timber and has been used in the construction of ancient ships and furniture for British palaces and political chambers; it is said that the legendary King Arthur’s Round Table was made from oak.
The Oak: An Ancient Tree of History
Oak trees dominated the English landscape of many kings and queens, such as King Henry V111 (1491 – 1547); many oak forests were probably witness to royal events, secret liaisons, plots and intrigue. It is also believed that the mythical Robin Hood arranged many meetings beneath the oak trees of Sherwood Forest.
The Oak: a Symbol of Religion and Witchcraft
The Oak tree was also a ‘sacred’ tree of the Celts. The size of the oak tree makes the oak an easy target for lightening strikes; this led to the belief, by ancient people of Europe and Asia, that the oak was indeed a channel between the sky gods and human beings. The oak tree has been used in many Druid religious practices. Druids attach much significance to the symbolism of the oak; the tree is grown in ‘sacred’ groves and burned in ceremonies.
The Oak Tree Today
There are said to be many ancient oaks still standing in Europe today. The exact dating of these ancient trees is hotly disputed and it can only be estimated as to the accuracy of the age of many ancient oaks. However, it can not be denied that a number of ancient oak trees have probably witnessed many changes and historical events of Europe throughout the centuries.