My bur oak branch in the winter

I’m a Minnesota native, but I lived for a while in Seattle. One of the reasons I wanted to move back here was to be near oak trees again. True fact, just ask my husband.

I missed the humble oak in the land of the towering Douglas fir. Midwestern girl, I guess. My favorites are the bur oaks, the gnarly ones with the crooked branches — the grumpy old men of oak trees.

I would like to honor my favorite tree by ‘following’  one branch as it passes through four seasons. The knoll area on the University of Minnesota campus has beautiful trees, but the bur oak in front of Eddy Hall at the corner of Pillsbury Drive and Pleasant Street has a branch low enough to photograph up close. I chose that one.

The hazards of this pursuit: What if the university’s groundskeepers lop it off in their zeal to keep the university’s 10,000 trees in tip-top shape? Or what if this particular branch fails to leaf out? All of a sudden I have a boring tale, or I am forced to cheat and pick a new branch — not very satisfying.

Oh, well, best to plunge ahead.

Lisa’s Bur Oak Branch, late February, 2011

My first thought was, It already has buds! Must be close to spring! But my daughter set me straight. Buds form at the end of the summer, she said, and most of us don’t notice. “Your oak tree buds look pretty dormant to me.” What I’m apparently seeing on these twigs are the scales that protect the bud from the elements.

“They look nice and tight to me,” she said, “like a coat of armor.”

Before the tree went into dormancy, it packed its cells with extra sugar to lower the temperature at which they would freeze. And now the sap is just staying put. Given the way oaks are built, they’re a little more sensitive to water columns breaking, so they wait a little longer to crank up in the spring. I’ll say. I wait and wait for oaks to leaf out.

Here’s the larger branch with Eddy Hall behind it.

Tom Ritzer, a landscape architect at the university, said the tree could be over two hundred years old, which probably means that a squirrel, not a person, planted it. When a bur oak nearby was removed by the university’s groundskeepers, someone counted the rings and determined that the tree started growing around 1783. Not in the same league as bristle cone pines, but still an accomplishment.

Eddy Hall is 125 years old. Old, but not nearly as old as the tree.

Here’s the whole tree. My branch is near the light post on the lower right of the photo.

And one last glimpse of the two magnificent oldsters, waiting for a warm, spring wind.

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5 Responses to My bur oak branch in the winter

  1. Lisa says:

    I don’t know. I’m kind of busy belonging to the International Sand Collectors Society. But I’ll sure think about it.

  2. Emily says:

    You could join a world wide network of other citizen phenologists tracking the seasonal patterns of lots of different tree species!

  3. Lisa Peters says:

    A ha! I didn’t make that bit up!

    And Joyce, I’m going to look up which oaks drop their leaves in the fall and which ones don’t. But there don’t seem to be enough hours in the day…

  4. mary says:

    I’m here to testify! Somewhere in my attic/basement/extra bedroom is a letter you wrote me about moving back to the Twin Cities. You did say that one of your greatest motivations was the desire to walk beneath deciduous (your word) trees again! Congrats: it’s a wonderful world you’ve chosen. Viva Minnesota!

  5. Joyce Sidman says:

    I love the way the up-close photo (first one) looks like a pair of deer’s hooves. Also, oak trees hang onto their leaves for a long time, don’t they? Some of ours are just losing theirs. Oh, and one more thing: bur oaks are also awesome because they have shaggy acorns! Looking forward to seeing future oak photos. . .