Like a parent who secretly really does have a favorite child, I will reluctantly and guiltily admit that in my series on worthy street trees of Philadelphia, I’ve saved the best for last.
I think it’s the stature of the oak tree that leaves me in awe. A mature oak is a sight to behold. Giant trees whose limbs, given room, can reach out improbable distances, a mature oak can be wider than it is tall. Historically the oak is a symbol of strength, and its image has been used for centuries on coats of arms and family crests. In ancient Rome, acts of military valor were rewarded with a crown made of oak leaves, a high honor.
There are several kinds of oak trees that successfully grow in our region, and they are all excellent choices for tree planting, given adequate space. All oaks fall into one of two categories- red oaks or white oaks. It’s easy to tell them apart. The outline of a red oak leaf is pointy at the leaf tips, and on the white oak they are rounded. Culturally, they can be treated generally the same.
In terms of variation within a species, if a maple is to a dog (think of a Chihuahua standing next to a Great Dane) an oak is to a cat- different types have somewhat different appearances but usually the features and size are pretty consistent.
Except for the puny Blackjack oak that grows in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, at maturity most oaks around here are big trees. The old saying goes that the best time to plant a tree is fifty years ago, and the second best time is now. Whether or not you intend on remaining in your present location for the next half century, by planting an oak tree today you will be making a grand and magnificent gesture- although it may be awhile before you get credit for it.