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The Power of Oaks

Oak trees support more life forms than any other North American tree genus, providing food or protection to animals ranging from birds to bears, not to mention countless insects and spiders.

In his new book “The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees,” entomologist Douglas W. Tallamy writes about how important oaks are for our ecosystems.

According to The New York Times, it was caterpillars that alerted Mr. Tallamy to the power of the oaks.

“Oak trees support 897 caterpillar species in the United States. At Mr. Tallamy’s 10-acre property in southeastern Pennsylvania, he has recorded 511 — dwarfing the number supported by other native trees there, including maples (Acer, interactions with 295 caterpillar species), ironwood (Carpinus, 77), and sweetgum (Liquidambar, 35).”

Of all the food eaten by insects, birds, and other animals, 75 percent comes from a few key tree genera, and oaks are the first on the list.

Birds forage for insects in oaks, and caterpillars are first-class food for their babies.

What is more, a single oak can produce three million acorns in its lifetime — rich with protein, fats, and carbohydrates.

A mature tree can drop as many as 700,000 leaves every year, providing habitat for many organisms

Finally, the tree’s mighty canopy also traps carbon.

So the next time you get to plant a tree, help the planet by choosing an oak. 


Nikola uses his background in electrical engineering to break down complex sustainability topics for GreenCitizen's readers. He is a firm believer in environmental conservation, which he practices daily through recycling and home-grown food. He enjoys hiking, engaging in white-water sports, and collecting pocket knives.


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