The Bur Oak is considered one of the most majestic of all the oaks and native trees.
A medium sized to large tree, the crown is rounded and makes a statement on the landscape. The common name comes from the acorn which has a scaly bur near the rim. The tree is native to the Ohio River Valley and typically occurs in bottomlands, but will adapt to a variety of solid and will tolerate dry soil.
The acorns average about 1 1/2” in length and are an important food source for wildlife. Squirrels, turkey, and deer are known to frequent the trees in fall when the acorns begin to drop. The twigs of the tree are rigid and at time have corky wings which provide great protection for a variety of butterfly and moth caterpillars. In fact the Bur Oak is a host plant to over 475 varieties of butterflies and moths. Since the aforementioned corky wings on the branches provide great protection and hiding spots for the caterpillars, song birds remain in the trees longer in search of food and in turn fill the air with their beautiful choruses for longer spans.
In Jefferson County, Bur Oak stands often determined where homesteads would be established, as the straight grained oak was easy to work with and made strong lumber for cabins, puncheon floors, and fence posts. Food and game was always close at hand if a Bur Oak was near.
On there infamous expedition, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark sought out the Bur Oak, to the point that a large part of their journey can be followed from Bur Oak to Bur Oak. They used the tree as a place to hold meetings such as the famous Council Oak which stood in Sioux City Iowa, for camping, and as a place to find game. On September 2, 1804, Lewis wrote : “the acorns were now falling, and we concluded that the number of deer which we saw here had been induced thither by the acorns of which they are remarkably fond. almost every species of wild game is fond of the acorn, the Buffaloe Elk, deer, bear, turkies, ducks, pigegians and even the wolves feed on them.” The McBaine Burr Oak near Columbia, Missouri is one of the many Bur Oaks along the expedition’s route which you can still visit today. ■