A focus on burning Oak as firewood
Our series of articles looking at the various species of tree that can be used as firewood continues with a British favourite: the mighty oak. The English oak (Quercus robur) is well known and popular, arguably having achieved the status of a national emblem.
Oak forests have a very high value for wildlife, supporting more species than any of our other native trees. Their leaves, catkin flowers and acorns provide a lot of food opportunities, and crevices in the bark allow many creatures to set up home. Fallen oak leaves provide a rich soil environment, in which many invertebrates like the stag beetle, and different types of fungi, such as oakbug milkcap, thrive.
How to identify an oak
The English oak forms a large, deciduous tree, between 20 and 40 metres in height. Its broad, spreading crown allows enough light through for bluebells and primroses to grow at its feet. Smooth, silvery brown bark develops fissures as the tree ages, but it’s the deeply lobed leaves (10cm long) that people easily recognise. The English oak is found throughout the northern hemisphere, in cool climates and right through to the tropics.
Another defining feature of the English oak is its acorns. Each of these egg-shaped nuts nestles in its own ‘egg cup’. Growing 2 to 2.5 centimetres long, each acorn starts life green and matures to a rich brown before dropping to the woodland floor. Most acorns don’t survive long enough to germinate. They provide a good source of food for many wild animals, including jays, squirrels, badgers and deer.
The ancient tradition of pannage allows pigs to feed in woodlands, and acorns are one of their food sources.
Oak in mythology
The oak has always been highly regarded in European cultures. It was thought sacred to several gods, including the Greek Zeus, the Roman Jupiter and the Celtic Dagda. Often the tallest tree in the landscape, oak trees are vulnerable to lightning strikes, and all three gods ruled over lightning and thunder.
Ancient kings wore crowns of oak leaves, and the Druids cherished the mistletoe that often grows in oak branches and carried out many of their rituals in oak woodlands.
How good is oak as a firewood?
Oak is one of the hardest and strongest timbers, but an oak tree needs to be around 150 years old before it can be used in construction. When used for firewood, oak produces a small flame and burns very slowly. Well-seasoned oak logs produce a massive heat output and bring good heart to the fire. The English Yule log, a popular Christmas tradition, was often cut from oak.