Long-lived post oaks venerable, picturesque
Posted: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 8:02 pm
By: By JIMMY WILLIAMS Special to The Messenger
All oaks, some say, are either red oaks or white oaks. That is, those like the scarlet oak are derivitives of the red oak and those like a post oak are merely forms of the white oak.
They have a point, but the scarlet oak and post oak (and most other oaks) are awarded species status by taxonomists.
Be that as it may, the white oak remains, as we said here last week, the pre-eminent “permanent” tree for long-term value, up to 200 or even 300 years, in this area.
Post oaks, which are virtually unobtainable in all but the most specialty nurseries, are also long lived, and, in old age, as picturesque (maybe more so) than white oaks. They grow even slower than white oaks, partly because they are often found on otherwise worthless and arid hillsides.
An ancient post oak, residing alone in some old field, is a thing of rare constitution, the epitome of strength and firmness. Its bole is short, the first branches often emanating no more than head high from the massive trunk.
The limbs themselves, on a venerable specimen, can attain the status of trees in their own right, often having a diameter of a foot or more.
The bark is deeply furrowed and ridged, having a character that no young specimen ever attains. The wood is hard and sinewey, with little commercial value, but making excellent firewood, providing it can be split.
At the branch extremities the artwork culminates in a crescendo of masterwork. There is no ultimate lace of twigs, as would be the case with, say, an elm.
Instead, the sturdiness of the trunk and large limbs is reflected in stout twigs ending, in winter, with knobby buds of potential leaves that will unfurl in May. These tend to turn upward, creating a canopy that seems, as it were, to be worshipping their Creator.
That canopy greens up with leaves that are glossy, large and thick, again reflecting strength, with symmetrical lobes that form a cruciform shape. Fall color is yellow to tan, and the leaves fall rather late.
Post oaks are common here, and, in fact, over the eastern United States, almost to the Canadian border and south into Florida. In the upper midwest there are climax forests almost solid with post oaks. In Peoria, Ill., I have witnessed whole neighborhoods of them in residential areas, some of massive proportions, a tremendous asset to the landscape in upper-crust settlements of the former liquor barons.
Right here in our own neighborhood they are rife on areas of poor soil where other things have difficulty. One notable specimen stands alone on a lonely (except for grazing cattle) hill a couple of miles south of Puryear, on the west side of Highway 641. It is silhouetted against the sky from the vantage point of the highway.
On a late winter day, with the weak sun setting far in the southwest, its frame is exhibited at its best. Once I caught it coated with a thin rime of ice, and the sun, shining through the stout branches, created concentric circles of gleaming orange. I wish Lisa Green had been there. It could have made the cover of Paris! magazine.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 1.27.09
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path