Among the many different species of oak trees found in Eliza Howell Park, Bur Oak is one that, in my mind, merits special recognition.
My attention starts with the acorns. Ever since I was young, I have been fascinated by these large nuts, reportedly the largest of any North American oak, almostly entirely covered by a mossy cap.
I cannot resist taking pictures, even when the acorns are not yet mature.
In bumper crop years — and this year appears to be one — these acorns are so noticeable that the tree looks a lot like a fruit tree.
The leaves are also easily recognizable, large and wider near the end. This, too, I learned early and is one of the reasons I have always been able to identify this species in the midst of many other oaks.
Bur Oak lives life leisurely, growing slowly and living a long, long time. And as it survives decade after decade after decade, it can get to be massive.
I have more than once measured one particular Eliza Howell specimen.
At four and a half feet from the ground the trunk has a circumference of well over 15 feet, which translates to a diameter of nearly 5 feet, perhaps the biggest tree in the park.
Using the standard method of estimating tree age based on diameter (and taking species growth rate into account), this individual is estimated to be nearly 300 years old.
In 1720, Detroit’s population was about 200 people.
Given how long these oaks have been growing, one can expect that Bur Oak is native to this part of the country.
As this map suggests, Bur Oak is more of a prairie tree than it is a forest tree. It has been one of the key oak species in “oak openings” or “oak savannas.”
Grasslands have historically burned with some regularity. Bur Oak’s bark is fit for this environment, thick enough to make it fire resistent.
There is a great variety of oaks — and acorns — in Eliza Howell and I am slowly getting to know many of them.
But I confess a stronger attraction to one of them than to (most of) the others. I am a Bur Oak fan.