The Secrets of the Trees
We hold our Mystic Magic in the Forest weekend retreats at Rosliston, in Rosliston National Forest, near Burton upon Trent, just south of Derby in the Midlands. Our retreats are themed, but often include an appreciation of nature, walks, the significance of trees in Spiritual and Pagan history, and their myths and legends
This blog charts the story, in instalments, of those trees, and all of those to be found at Rosliston, around forty species. Each tree is to be found at Rosliston, but may also be found more widely around Great Britain, Europe, North America and beyond.
In these blogs I describe each tree, explain where they are found, what their history is and how they have related to our history. I also explore the myths and legends surrounding the trees in different countries and from different traditions as well as how herbalists have used them to treat human conditions and how products from the trees have been used throughout history.
I hope that you enjoy reading these tree blogs as much as I have enjoyed writing them for you. If you would like to come and see them in their natural habitat why not join us for one of our retreats?
English Oak- Quercus robur
Quercus robur, commonly known as common oak, pedunculate oak, European oak or English oak, is a species of flowering plant in the beech and oak family, Fagaceae. It is native to most of Europe west of the Caucasus. The tree is widely cultivated in temperate regions and has escaped into the wild in scattered parts of China and North America.
The oak is a large deciduous tree, with circumference of grand oaks from 4 m (13 ft) to exceptional 12 m (39 ft). The Majesty Oak with a circumference of 12.2 m (40 ft) is the thickest tree in Great Britain, and the Kaive Oak in Latvia with a circumference of 10.2 m (33 ft) is the thickest tree in Northern Europe. It is very tolerant to soil conditions and the continental climate but it prefers fertile and well-watered soils. Mature trees tolerate flooding.
It is a long-lived tree, with a large wide spreading crown of rugged branches. While it may naturally live to an age of a few centuries, many of the oldest trees are pollarded or coppiced, both pruning techniques that extend the tree’s potential lifespan, if not its health.
Two individuals of notable longevity are the Stelmužė Oak in Lithuania and the Granit Oak in Bulgaria, which are believed to be more than 1500 years old, possibly making them the oldest oaks in Europe; another specimen, called the ‘Kongeegen’ (‘Kings Oak’), estimated to be about 1200 years old, grows in Jaegerspris, Denmark.
Yet another can be found in Kvilleken, Sweden, that is over 1000 years old and 14 metres (46 ft) around. Of maiden (not pollarded) specimens, one of the oldest is the great oak of Ivenack, Germany.
Tree-ring research of this tree and other oaks nearby gives an estimated age of 700 to 800 years. Also, the Bowthorpe Oak in Lincolnshire, England is estimated to be 1000 years old, making it the oldest in the UK, although there is Knightwood Oak in the New Forest that is also said to be as old. Highest density of the grand oak trees with a circumference 4 metres (13 ft) and more is in Latvia.
The oak is valued for its importance to insects and other wildlife. Numerous insects live on the leaves, buds, and in the acorns.
Q. robur supports the highest biodiversity of insect herbivores of any British plant (>400 spp). The acorns form a valuable food resource for several small mammals and some birds, notably Eurasian jays Garrulus glandarius.
Jays were overwhelmingly the primary propagators of oaks before humans began planting them commercially (and still remain the principal propagators for wild oaks), because of their habit of taking acorns from the umbra of its parent tree and burying them undamaged elsewhere.
Mammals, notably squirrels who tend to hoard acorns and other nuts usually leave them too abused to grow in the action of moving or storing them. It is planted for forestry, and produces a long-lasting and durable heartwood, much in demand for interior and furniture work. The wood of Q. robur is identified by a close examination of a cross-section perpendicular to fibres. The wood is characterised by its distinct (often wide) dark and light brown growth rings
In England, the English oak has assumed the status of a national emblem. This has its origins in the oak tree at Boscobel House, where the future King Charles II hid from his Parliamentarian pursuers in 1650 during the English Civil War; the tree has since been known as the Royal Oak.
This event was celebrated nationally on 29 May as Oak Apple Day, which is continued to this day in some communities. ‘The Royal Oak’ is the third most popular pub name in Britain and has been the name of eight major Royal Navy warships. The naval associations are strengthened by the fact that oak was the main construction material for sailing warships.
The Royal Navy was often described as ‘The Wooden Walls of Old England’ (a paraphrase of the Delphic Oracle) and the Navy’s official quick march is “Heart of Oak”. In folklore, the Major Oak is where Robin Hood is purportedly to have taken shelter. Furthermore, the oak is the most common woodland tree in England. An oak tree has been depicted on the reverse of the pound coin (the 1987 and 1992 issues) and a sprig of oak leaves and acorns is the emblem of the National Trust.
Druids held the oak tree as sacred and gathered mistletoe from its boughs for secret rites. Th British regard it as the King of trees. It is often struck by lightening as it is the tallest tree around. Charles 11 famously hid from the Roundheads in one during the Civil war, King Arthur’s round table was reputedly made from a single slice of oak. The tree could not be felled prior to metal sawed interuments, an ancient saying says:
“If the oak is out before the ash the earth will only get a splash. If the ash is out before the oak, the earth around will get a soak”