Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Big Burr Oak At My House

The Burr Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) in my front yard was here before my house was built. This neighborhood was once a large forested area on the western outskirts of Nashville and sometime in the late 1950's Hillwood was developed. America was totally in love with the car and suburban homes with two car garages were springing up all over.

This tree sits in its own little forest of white oaks, shag bark hickories, hackberries and redbuds. I have protected him from the power company that wants yearly to shear all the limbs off the street side to protect the power lines. We hire an arborist to keep him trimmed, but even then, the folks who decide what must 'go' aren't always cooperative! You have to be strong when you fight for 'grandfather's health'.

Big Burr and his forest friends: redbud, shagbark hickory and hackberry.

I just adore this oak tree. Does that sound silly to adore a tree? He is a venerable soul and sits proudly over the front yard. Phooey on those 'not arborist' who want to protect the power lines! When they come by this year and try to paint a big red/yellow/blue spot on Big Burr, you can count on me being out there arguing with them! They are not going to deface this tree. (visualize Scarlet O'Hara, hand up-raised...)

The Oak has been considered sacred by almost every culture. I consider it a wise old tree...Last year when spring bloom was wiped out by a killer frost the Burr Oak was the only tree that had not begun to leaf out. Someone asked what I learned about gardening through last year's late frost/drought and I said this: "Plant oaks, plant natives....they have a chance to survive." All over this neighborhood, Magnolia grandiflora are dead...they are not native to Tennessee, but the Burr oaks are thriving.

Here are the facts:

Burr oak (Quercus macrocarpa), also known as blue oak, mossy-overcup oak, mossy-overcup oak, and scrub oak, has the largest acorns* of all native oaks. It has a deeply furrowed silver gray bark that looks good in winter.

It is very drought resistant. It grows slowly on dry uplands and sandy plains but is also found on fertile limestone soils and moist bottomlands in mixture with other hardwoods. It's a social tree and likes the company of other trees!

Common Name: bur/burr oak
Zone: 3 to 8
Plant Type: Tree
Family: Fagaceae (Beech)
Tennessee Native: Yes
Native Range: North and central United States, southeastern Canada
Height: 60 to 80 feet
Spread: 60 to 80 feet
Bloom Time: April, past the last frost date
Bloom Color: Yellowish-green
Fall Foliage: Yellowish brown, not known for outstanding color, it has other good qualities
Acorns: Fabulous, big, with fringed cups. Squirrels love them. Perfect for fairy boats.
Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium, very drought tolerant
Maintenance: Low, I leave the mulched leaves out to the drip line most years.
Bark: Deeply furrowed, quite beautiful to my eye.
Does not transplant well. It has this interesting habit of developing a long taproot so even year old seedlings don't like to be transplanted.
Where to plant: Larger front or back yard, it's a big tree creating dry shade beneath its canopy.


"What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another." Mahatma Gandhi

* not my photo


  1. Great post Gail. I love all types of oak trees. They truly are the grandaddy of trees. Those are gorgeous acorns.

    Hope you had a good visit with your Mom last weekend and she is doing better.

  2. Great post, Gail! Keep on fighting the good fight! Burr oaks are great, though I don't ever remember seeing one when I was growing up in Nashville. (Maybe that was just because I didn't know my oaks too well then!) I can't bear to cut down the red, scarlet, and white oak seedlings that pop up here at Hawk's Haven, my Pennsylvania home, even when they're a little too close to existing trees. And so far, I've fought a winning battle against the power companies for my red cedars! My father's still fighting them to keep his treeline down in Brentwood, too. What are those folks thinking?!!

  3. jean,

    I am glad you posted...it's good to touch base with you..How are things in Maine?


  4. ourfriendben,

    The power companies don't really hire arborist...just contract workers. Bur oak are around my neighborhood, but west Nashville is a different terrain than Brentwood. Tell your dad good luck!


  5. Thanks Gail. I don't often comment on other blogs as I don't have time to comment on all I read (it is getting bad and worse every day) LOL. Except Tina's and have to talk on hers. But I DO ALWAYS read yours. I check in every single day.

    Sunny today after 3 days of rain but very, very windy.

  6. Jean,

    Thank you, you and Tina are the best!


  7. I grew up surrounded by Burr Oaks (makes going barefoot in Autumn very painful). How lucky you are to have a mature specimen. How unlucky that you have to fight with the power company's tree-manglers. (I have powerlines along my back yard.) I can't understand why the power companies just don't bite the bullet & bury the lines. They'd end up saving money in the long run & it would be such an aesthetic improvement. Keep fighting the good fight.

  8. Hey Mom, i was wondering if that was you-now i know! gail, i love oaks too. my flowers were all wiped out last year. my understanding is white oaks flower and bear acorns in one year and the red oaks flower one year and bear the acorns the next? i may have it mixed up. but i was hoping for no acorns last year due to the pool, i got acorns despite the late freeze.

    btw i can see scarlett o'hara in you. i too have fought the butchers. the battle goes on and it SO great you hire an arborist to trim the tree yourself! that is responsible. my mother is a faithful reader.

  9. Great post, Gail. Oaks are my favorite trees, they have an earthly power that was recognized long ago by many peoples. Those are some great acorns too. I love acorns of all kinds. You are indeed a good steward to fight to protect the integrity of your tree.

  10. mmd,

    I will fight it every year...I have seen the entire middle of trees taken out and pine trees with all limbs on one side removed. Short sighted they see this a cheeper than burying the lines.

    You and your mom are a delight. I think I read something about how burs don't make acorns every year...isn't that neat that they share the earth with the reds!

    I so agree they are old soul trees...I love the acorns, too.


  11. I don't believe that I have seen a burr oak before! Love those acorns. I feel the same about red, white and pin oaks as you do about burr oaks. They are the backbone of my garden. Thanks for the introduction to this one! Can't wait to say hi in person this weekend!

  12. layanee,

    I think lots of people get blaze about these backbone trees...they do take up a lot of space and some do make for dry shade but...they are incredible!

    See you...

  13. I have got to use spell check...tht is supposed to be blase but I can't spell French words and use the accent sign, sigh.


  14. Bur oaks grow well in Austin too. In fact I have a small one in my garden.

  15. Pam,

    They get very big here...are they smaller in Texas;)


  16. They say everything's bigger in Texas, Gail, but I don't know if that's true for trees. ;-) Actually, what I should have said is that I have a *young* bur oak in my garden. It will get quite big one day.

  17. Pam I have to tell a funny story about the oak tress in Texas. I had a daughter that lived there in Dripping Springs (outside Austin) and had gone to visit. They lived on a very large piece of land with only trees around. Tress that had been there forever. I said "Oh great you have lotsa apple trees". She laughed and said "No, Mom, they are Oak Trees". I live in Maine where the Oaks are really massive and those Oak Trees looked just exacty like our apple trees.

  18. Oaks are wonderful trees. Don't get me started on the power companies. I always cringe when I hear the city folks with their power equipment in my neighborhood. They just want to hack down everything.

  19. This is a great post about Burr Oaks. You are indeed lucky to have one of your own. I see one often when walking at the park. I wish we had room for one here on our property.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson