Native plant: The majestic bur oak helps support wildlife – The Columbus Dispatch


Bur oak trees, a long-lived member of the white oak group, bears a dense canopy that provides ample shade.

Editor’s note: Once a month, the OSU Extension master gardener’s office of Franklin County profiles a plant that occurs naturally in central Ohio.

Native plant landscapes are increasingly promoted to provide much-needed habitat and food for insects, birds and other wildlife. A productive tree for such landscapes is the bur oak — Quercus macrocarpa. Growing to 60 to 80 feet high and wide in cultivated settings, this long-lived member of the white oak group bears a dense canopy that provides ample shade. Its broad, rounded crown is supported by substantial branches and a massive trunk.

Although bur oaks do not produce nectar-laden flowers for insects, these trees are larval hosts for numerous species of butterflies and moths. Larval caterpillars in turn are a critical food source for songbirds of all types, especially during the nesting and breeding season. Upon maturity, the tree produces large acorns that are a favored food for wood ducks, wild turkeys, rabbits, squirrels and other small mammals. Deer will browse unprotected sapling trees. 

Bur oak leaves have rounded lobes with deep sinuses, or indentations, at the bottom and shallow sinuses at the top, producing a distinctive guitar or cello shape. Leaves can grow to 12 inches long and half as wide. A lustrous deep green during the growing season, these leaves turn yellowish-brown in fall. Acorns are quite large — up
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