It was brilliant morning in late summer, and all was well across the woodsy preserve. The warmth of the rising sun was starting to get the upper hand. A cool, light fog was lifting. Dotting the sloping hillsides were oaks, their branches reaching up as though they were stretching after a good night’s sleep.
God the botanist blessed the earth with majestic beauty when He created oak trees. Rising and spreading like gigantic umbrellas, these trees offer shade, shelter and the gift of acorns for hungry animals.
Hanging from oak branches like tiny Christmas ornaments, average acorns aren’t even 2 inches from top to bottom. Experts say the trees generally start producing acorns after 10 to 20 years, although in a dense forest setting, an oak may not produce acorns for up to 50 years. A mature oak yields at most 2,000 acorns a year, but only one acorn in 10,000 develops into one of these iconic trees. This means that every oak tree is something of a miracle or, at least, a mathematical rarity.
What happens to all the leftover acorns? Most are eaten by wildlife, echoing Jesus’ words about how His Father feeds even the birds (Matthew 6:26). The treasure inside—about the size of a grape—contains a hefty supply of protein, fats and carbohydrates. This is daily bread to more than 100 species, including squirrels, wild turkeys, deer and black bears. For many of these creatures, acorns make the difference between winter survival and starvation.
An acorn begins as a collection of cells on a twig. Flowers form, some male and some female. When it’s time for pollination, the process is driven by the wind rather than by bees. Breezes cast the pollen of male flowers into the air.
When oaks release pollen, you’ll often see a yellow dust coating car windows and outdoor furniture. Other pollen grains land on the sticky opening of the female oak flower, and transformation begins. The base of the female bloom becomes the nutty base of the acorn; the blossom’s petals and sepals become the woody cap on top.
Some scientists are baffled by the unpredictable cycle of acorn production. There’s no consistent link between growing conditions and the number of acorns dropped. One year, oaks produce bumper crops; the next there may be few. Most of the time, drought diminishes crop size. But there are other times when conditions are perfect—yet few acorns form.
This mystery reveals the handiwork of God, who orchestrates the times and seasons to His purposes. He knows when the animal population needs an increase in food, and He also knows when it’s time to start new trees. The Lord has been tending oaks for a very long time.
God designed oaks to thrive in a variety of environments, including forests with rich soil, sandy deserts and tropical islands. Some oaks are evergreen, while others lose their leaves each year. One thing all oaks have in common is producing acorns.
Worldwide, there are over 600 types of oaks. More than 60 species grow in the U.S., with the largest variety east of the Mississippi River.
Oaks can live for hundreds and occasionally thousands of years, growing to breathtaking sizes. Height varies by species, with some soaring from 65 to 100 feet, while others resemble shrubs. The spread of an oak can stretch out to 150 feet.
There is some uncertainty about oaks in the Bible. Several words have been translated as oak, but they can also mean “tree.” There are also trees called oak in some translations, but called terebinth—a smaller tree—in others. Here are a few famous oaks, including ones mentioned in the Old Testament.
• The oaks of Mamre. In Genesis 18, the Lord appears to Abraham near some trees. While some translations call these terebinth trees, others call them “the oaks of Mamre.” Mamre is in Hebron—in the Palestinian Territory. There’s an oak standing there today near a Russian Orthodox Church. Some believe it is one of the same trees where God and man once met.
• The Jurupa Oak. Growing in rocky terrain outside Riverside, California, the world’s oldest oak is about 13,000 years old. Discovered in 1990, the tree looks more like a bunch of bushes clumped together. It grows from 70 genetically identical stems and covers more than 75 feet of rocky terrain.
• The Major Oak. Growing in the heart of England’s Sherwood Forest, this oak is renowned as Robin Hood’s possible shelter. It has been alive 800 to 1,000 years and took root as several trees entwined as saplings.
• The Seven Sisters oak. This 2,500-year-old oak grows near Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana. The tree has seven main branches emerging from a trunk 38 feet in circumference.