Foresters use a number of mathematical formulas to estimate the board feet of lumber in a cut log. Using one of these formulas, known as “log rules,” you, too, can estimate the amount of sawn lumber a log will produce. This can be useful, say, if you may want to estimate what you will owe the portable sawmill owner for sawing it up for you (since he probably will charge you per board foot). The estimate will get you close so that the final bill will not be a complete surprise.
As a forester, I field plenty of questions from friends and acquaintances about trees in general. However, by far the most common question is “how can I tell the difference between red oaks and white oaks?” Well, here’s how.
Oaks are in the beech family and in the genus Quercus which is the very literal Latin word for “oak tree.” The oaks are identified as belonging to one of three different subdivisions: the white, red, and intermediates. Only the red and white oak groups are found in North America. I don’t know the real reason white oaks are named such except that the namesake of the group Quercus alba (alba means “white” in Latin) has a white bark. However, the underside of the leaf is whitish as well. In addition, the namesake red oak Quercus rubra (yep, rubra means “red” in Latin) has a reddish wood, a red/orange inner bark, and its leaves turn a brilliant to rusty red in the fall. So, you see the problem?
An interesting fact about oaks is that from the time red oaks bloom, to the drop of the acorn, is two years. If those acorns aren’t eaten by squirrels, deer, raccoons, turkeys, wild hogs, and any of the other numerous species that eat oak acorns, when they drop to the ground, then they will sprout the following spring. The white oaks, on the other hand, bloom in the spring, grow acorns, and drop them in the fall of the same year. When those acorns drop to the ground, they immediately begin the sprouting process and try to establish a beginning root system before winter sets in.
There are some major differences between the two groups and some more subtle ones. Although the wood can sometimes prove difficult to distinguish, especially if it was flatsawn, bark, leaves, and acorns are very useful in telling the difference between live trees of the two groups.
Aside from the obvious whitish bark of the White Oak and Swamp Chestnut Oak (both white oaks) and the darker bark of the Northern Red Oak, Cherrybark Oak, and Blackjack Oak (all red oaks), the leaves are the telltale indicator between the two groups. Look closely at the two oak leaves in this picture.
You have to look closely to find the one sign that quickly distinguishes the red oaks from the white. At the tip of a red oak leaf or the lobes of the leaf, you’ll find a spine or bristle.
They may be almost microscopic, or very visible; however, you will never find them on a white oak leaf. So, as simple as it sounds, THAT’s how you tell the difference between a red oak tree and a white oak tree.
Next time we will attempt to find the difference between the wood of the two oak groups. See you then!
It all started with a cry for help.
Early last year, I read an interesting entry on a foresters’ forum. A reader explained that she was given a wooden chainsaw-carved bear by her father. A few days after she received, it she noticed that it was growing “hair.” Lauren wrote, “I noticed some things growing out of the sides of the bear that look like little white strings, about 2 inches long. I got a broom and brushed them off, and within 2 hours of me brushing them off, they had already started to grow back!” She had no idea what was happening with her new gift, and most of the good folks who replied didn’t either. Most of them guessed it was fungus of some sort. They were close, but it was far too early to call it a fungus. Confused yet? Continue reading
Readers of last week’s blog were asked to comment and describe what they like about woodworking. Although I can’t enter the contest, I will add my two cents. What I like about woodworking is working with my wood. The wood from the tree I watched grow, the tree I pruned when it was just a pole, or the tree my dad’s cattle would hide under to seek shelter from the hot southern sun.
I have always loved forests and everything in them. I studied them from the time I was old enough to wander through them alone (which, on a small farm in Mississippi in the 1960s, was a very young age). That is what eventually led me into my profession. I am a silviculturist, best described by The Society of American Foresters, as one who practices silvics, which is “the study of the life history and general characteristics of forest trees and stands, with particular reference to environmental factors…” In a nutshell (I know. That’s why I didn’t go into standup comedy), I try to manage forests for the benefit of the trees, wildlife, water and the people that use them. It is an odd profession, because if you think about it, the end result of what we do in a forest today will not be apparent for tens or hundreds of years. So, it is a science of faith.