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Diary Article No 18

Having been a volunteer at Oak Tree Farm Rural Project for just over a year now I still don’t really know where the name came from. Maybe it was the thought that it would grow from humble beginnings and would develop and flourish like the Acorn and the Oak Tree. Whatever the reason the Oak and Acorn are an important part of the identity of the site with Acorn Gardening Services and Oak Leaf Tea Room named after them. So, perhaps it is no surprise that they have a few different types of Oak Trees around the site.

Quite a few smallish trees that were planted some years ago surround the main car park for Oak Tree Centre. One of them is a Turkey Oak, or to give its proper name Quercus Cerris and this particular one is of a variety that has deeply dissected, or lobed leaves that make it quite ornamental. The centre likes to encourage wildlife, but even the squirrels aren’t fond of the Acorns from this tree as they are particularly bitter and full of tannins. The tree was originally planted by Viscount Sandon who later became the Earl of Harrowby when his father died a few years ago and on whose estate Oak Tree sits. The small herd of cows in the field did nibble it badly for the first few years, but it is growing away strongly now.

Another Oak tree that hasn’t been planted long is one at the side of the path on the way to the café. This one is of the variety Quercus Ilex, the Holly Oak, or Holm Oak. This tree isn’t a native, but comes from South Western Europe and is unusual because of its leaves that are leathery, evergreen and “crinkly.” The Holm Oak is smaller than many other Oaks and is also different in another important way. The Acorns that it produces when mature are edible with less tannins in and therefore have very little astringency. This means that the seeds can be washed and eaten raw, or cooked, made into fine flour and even roasted and used to make a coffee. Indeed during the Second World War Acorn coffee was quite popular.

I think somebody told me that the centre also has a Cork Oak that is a well known Mediterranean tree from which cork is obtained. The cork was traditionally used to produce all the wine bottle corks until they were largely replaced by things like the dreaded plastic versions. The seeds (Acorns) of the Cork Oak are large and fairly low in tannins so they can also be eaten fresh, or with a minimum of processing. This tree isn’t very hardy as it will only stand temperatures down -10°C without damage, but the Forestry Commission are experimenting with growing some on Cannock Chase as an alternative tree to our native Oaks, the Pendunculate Oak. With our supposedly warming climate and hotter, drier Summers the Forestry think they will survive better.

There are of course other Oak trees growing around the site with several big ones in hedges and these are the two more common species, the Pendunculate and the Sessile Oaks. The two varieties are very similar apart from the way the Acorns grow. On the English, or Pendunculate Oak, the Acorns are carried on stalks but on the Sessile Oak they are produced directly on the outer twigs. As far as I am concerned the most important thing about these two Oaks is that the Acorns are full of tannins and inedible to all, but Pigs who love any Acorns.

The Centre love any excuse for a party, or celebration and they recently held a party for Halloween, but I don’t think they have any plans to follow the olden rituals Druids frequently performed around Oak Trees. Folklore legends also revolve around Mistletoe that will grow on Oak Tree branches, although commercially it is normally grown on Apple Trees. It might be fun to “Plant,” a few berries on some of the trees and see if they take. It takes years to develop and I am told you need both male and female Mistletoe plants to get berries on the female ones. The other interesting thing that sometimes grows on Oak Trees are Truffles. These are notoriously difficult to find occurring naturally as they grow underground around the roots of Oak Trees and other tree species. The Fungi, which is what they are, can be “Sown,” manually, if you can get some spores and know what you are doing, so it might be fun to try growing these at Oak Tree as well as Mistletoe. It would certainly get Oak Tree some attention and publicity if they got both growing successfully!

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