Genre Quercus is important in many ways, from furniture and housing and American shipbuilding to the earliest acorns as food for wildlife and our sense of forest beauty and upright strength.
I once thought that oaks weren’t much appreciated for the color of the fall foliage, and maples and aspens certainly have a lot of pressure, but take a look this fall for yellows, oranges, bronzes and deep reds. Here are some recent fall evocations of oak trees.
Here is a reminder of our cultural and horticultural senses of oaks. On a recent stay in New York City, I was once again impressed by the health and soothing feeling of solidity of white marsh oaks (Two-tone quercus) in Memorial Plaza on the September 11 site, seen from our hotel. I reread an article I wrote in our Buckeye Yard and Garden Line (bygl.osu.edu) on September 16, 2016:
“In Memorial Plaza there are now mighty oak trees. Hundreds of white marsh oaks. Landscape architects Peter Walker and Partners wanted these oaks to be living and growing reminders to match the loss of the “Reflecting Absence” design of the recessed pools on the Twin Towers footprints. The flow of water cascading through the pools, the names of those lost inscribed along the edges, the vastness of what these images reflect – and the oaks.
People walk through the square on a sidewalk placed on underground concrete tables that support hollows of loose soil to support oak root growth. These trees are healthy: with glossy green upper leaves, white on the lower leaves – two-tone. White swamp oaks are a major native forest tree, reaching 60 feet, popular now in landscaping for their adaptability, ease of transplanting to an oak, and environmental canopy services.
As stated on the 9/11 memorial site: “Trees will never be the same, growing at different heights and changing leaves at different times.”[fall color], a physical reminder that they are living individuals. Parvis et glandibus quercus. Mighty oak trees grow from small acorns. At the end of September, these oaks were still thriving.
Another oak tribute we visited was at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Liberty Oak Allee was planted with scarlet oaks (Quercus coccinea) in memory of those who lost their lives on September 11. A green setting conducive to contemplation. From Thomas Carlyle: “When the oak is felled, the whole forest echoes with its fall, but a hundred acorns are sown in silence by an unnoticed breeze. ”
Finally, an oak tree right here in my own garden, becoming more and more popular although it was once considered a species of southern oak: the willow oak, Quercus phellos, often unnoticed like an oak, with its narrow, non-lobed leaves. Beautiful.
Enchanting in the garden
Speaking of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, one of the largest botanical gardens in the world: it’s worth visiting several times a year. I have visited several times, including with my OSU Sustainable Landscape Maintenance course, before COVID, but this was my first at the end of summer.
A superstar was the almost impossible exotic Clerodendron trichotomum, the glory-bower harlequin shrub, which I saw a few years ago in the High Line Park in Manhattan in smaller versions, but there are some wonderful mature specimens here.
Imagine soft white scented petals underpinned by rose-pink calyxes (the whorl of flowers behind the petals), which ripen into intense red star-shaped calyxes with solitary metallic blue drupe fruits. Harlequin cartoon colors.
Which brings the next plant to our attention at BBG: a Jujube Ziziphus, the Chinese jujube tree. I know the products of this tree from my visit to China – and the super tasty cold jujube juice with all my meals. There are specimens at Holden Arboretum in northeast Ohio, but the BBG has a large, mature specimen with a multitude of jujube fruits.
Glorious harlequins and jujubes are just the icing on an incredible range of features at BBG, from the Shakespeare garden to the Curiosity collection to vegetable gardens, including the hosta-like turmeric leaves (I’ve never knew what it looked like) to the impossible rough leaves of kale, purple and salmon colored pearls of different species of beauty berries to alleys of cherry and ginkgo trees. If you’re not visiting this winter, take a trip to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in the spring to check out the magnolias.
Back home in Ohio
While my wife and I love to travel, botanical beauty is of course also available at home: from fall asters and spice fruits at Medina County’s River Styx parks, to flowering Sun King aralia. (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’), fillet-veined forsythia leaves and pink fruits turning blue of Viburnum nudum at the Wayne County Secret Arboretum.
Weird nail-shaped thorns and bladder-shaped swellings of the fruits of the Gomphocarp Downtown Wadsworth Milkweed with the pumpkin-colored fall foliage of the yellow buckeye at Oberlin College in Wayne County and the dark berries of the black jetbead at the OSU Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster. Finally, have you ever noticed the truly incredible construction of a flower as commonplace as the zinnia, with ligulate florets and disc florets; a cluster of tiny, separate flowers, ripening at different times. Check it out.
From A to Z, from Aralia to Ziziphus – and Zinnia.
And to top it off, last Sunday my wife Laura (a regular) and I picked apples at the Rittman Orchard in Doylestown for three hours. For me, it was the first concentrated apple picking since my time at Hackleboro Orchard in Canterbury, New Hampshire, right after graduating from Harvard – at Hocking University, Ohio in Athens, Ohio. Nothing better on a cool morning, looking for that apple amid the dew and blue sky and productive sun.
Jim Chatfield is a horticultural educator and professor emeritus at the Ohio State University Extension. If you have any questions about maintaining your garden, write to [email protected] or call 330-466-0270. Please include your phone number if writing.