Although oak trees are steadfast, well-known, adaptable, and a great addition to any yard, they also serve a higher purpose. Oak trees help the environment on a daily, no- constant basis!
In general, oak trees help the environment by providing habitats and nourishment to wildlife and help maintain a good quality of air by soaking up air pollutants. Oak tree canopies even prevent soil erosion by slowing rainfall and provide nutrients to the surrounding soil.
Read on to learn more about these ways in which oak trees benefit the environment and its inhabitants. You’ll be surprised to learn just how beneficial oak trees can be in both daily lives and across generations!
Why Are Oak Trees So Important?
Let’s get into it with the first question you may be asking- why exactly are oaks so important?
While this article is going to give you lots of insight into that, we want to give you a sneak peek here.
Oak trees and humans have a long, interdependent relationship. This basically means that, while oaks sometimes need our support to thrive, we also heavily rely on them for more than we realize.
Oak trees can be credited for helping cleanse the air we breathe, keeping our communities safe from fires, erosion, which plays a part in climate change, and keeping woodland creatures in the woods and out of our neighborhoods.
Now, these are just a small few benefits that oak trees have, and those mostly relate to us as humans.
The fact is that oak trees support us, they support animals, and they work to protect the environment at their own expense.
Seem dramatic to you? Keep reading on to see just how true that statement is.
1. Oak Trees Help Animals
First and foremost, oak trees provide so much for the critters that make their homes outdoors.
Oak trees can even help sustain a good balance between humans and animals by providing enough that these potential pests do not have to seek out food or shelter that may interfere with people’s daily lives.
When the wildlife on our planet is sustained healthy and can contribute to local ecosystems, that is how you know that the plant life is doing its part.
2. Oak Tree Acorns Provide An Alternative Food Source
Animals like deer, pigs, mice, squirrels, and more all prefer acorns over other foods like corn and beans. When these are available, without as much need for sustenance by humans, they can nourish wildlife and domestic animals alike.
This, of course, does not apply to every single animal as some can’t tolerate acorns (like cattle.)
So, while acorns may not be an advisable replacement for other feed types, some animals will seek them out naturally.
Oak trees produce about 140 pounds of acorns per tree at a time, according to research presented at the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. This number can shoot up to over 1000 pounds, however, in mature oaks of certain varieties.
Humans can also eat acorns, and they are truly a delight if prepared properly. They can be eaten whole, and roasted with salt, ground into flour or cornmeal, or even pressed for oil.
Just because this may not be the most traditional food to eat doesn’t mean that they aren’t a great savory snack. Compare them to any sort of salted nut, like walnuts, almonds, or peanuts.
If you’re interested, we go a bit more in-depth on which trees produce acorns here.
3. Oak Trees Provide Shelter
Oak trees provide shelter from everything, rain or shine.
On a stormy day, they keep the rainfall to an even, somewhat regulated pace that helps keep animals and soil sustained in a healthy way that is not overpowering.
They’ll protect people too, but we don’t exactly recommend standing under a large tree in a thunderstorm: one word- lightning.
When the sun is shining, oaks provide a reprieve from the heat in the same way that they block the rain from coming down too quickly and heavily.
The leaves and branches of oak trees shade creatures big and small from getting a little too much sun. The same extends to the soil, keeping it from drying out as quickly as it would in an area that is uncovered and overexposed.
Another benefit of oak canopies providing shelter from the sun is felt by the soil itself. This shade acts as a mitigating factor in climate change because it helps to regulate the ground temperature of the soil even as the air temperature is increasingly rising.
This impact is not only felt in nature. Since oak trees are not only located in remote forests, their beneficial aspects are distributed across different areas. In urban locations, or really anywhere with people and buildings, the shade from these trees can help to reduce a need for extreme cooling measures.
All the more reason to plant one! If you’d like to, you can read more about if you should plant an oak tree in your backyard here.
A house or office shaded by an oak tree uses significantly less powerful air conditioning, which means less energy is being allocated to that area. Thus, a better environmental situation all around!
Oh, and these oak trees act like a home, or at least a resting spot, for many wild animals.
What Animals Live In An Oak Tree?
Smaller-sized mammals such as raccoons, squirrels, possums, and others can be found nesting in holes of older, more mature oak trees. A one-stop shop, these oak trees also provide the acorns that become a staple in the diet of these smaller mammals.
Not only tiny furry creatures can make use of oak trees, however. Larger mammals like foxes are known to make dens in the space of fallen, hollowed oak trunks.
Birds nest in the branches, seeing that no part of this oak tree’s real estate goes to waste, while insects and spiders nestle under the bark and in the soil near the base of the oak tree.
Reptiles, anything from frogs to snakes and salamanders, may make their home in the exposed roots of an oak tree, especially along a body of water.
4. Oak Trees Can Support Centuries Of Life
Some oak trees can live up to a millennium, or possibly more. This means that wildlife for generations, centuries of wild animals, can be sustained and sheltered by a single oak. That’s pretty special if you ask us.
This helps the environment, too, because of the fact that the more wildlife that flourishes, the more balanced an ecosystem that impacts so much of the natural world.
Wildlife isn’t the only category that benefits in this way from oak trees. People for generations upon generations have looked to oak trees for medicinal purposes, food sources, and shelter.
Just because much of the developed world tend to overlook the myriad resources found right under our noses does not mean that those resources cease to exist.
If you’re interested in planting oak trees that last for centuries, you can check out our guide on the best oak trees to plant here.
5. Oak Trees Improve Air Quality
Air quality is one of the biggest considerations when talking about the environmentally-friendly merits of an area, and oak trees can play a large role in boosting this quality to a higher level.
As with other plants, photosynthesis is a huge factor in keeping our air clean and safe. This is why it’s said that the more trees, or plants in general, in an area, the better!
That’s all well and good, but how does photosynthesis clean the air? Let’s talk about it.
Leaves of oak trees store carbon dioxide up while allowing oxygen to be dispersed back into the atmosphere. This is the basic premise of photosynthesis. What’s more, however, is that airborne pollutants are also absorbed.
While this is objectively not good for the tree itself, these pollutants are not released back out in the same way that oxygen is, so the leaves are acting as a sort of vacuum for the ‘bad’ while helping to produce the ‘good’ in our air supply.
So, next time you breathe in a deep breath of fresh, clean air, thank a tree. More specifically, thank an oak tree! A single oak can absorb up to 10 pounds of air pollution per year, which adds up when you consider that the average oak tree lives hundreds of years.
With an (average) lifespan of about 400 years in their prime, oak trees are each responsible for helping to remove 2 tons, or 4,000 pounds, of air pollution in their lifetime.
Now, think about this on a scale of someone who has 3 oak trees planted in their yard. What about a small patch of property with 12 trees, or a forest with hundreds of these?
Oak trees are powerful environmentalists on their own, but, in a group, they are essentially a necessity to keeping our air clean, safe, and healthy to breathe in.
If you’re interested in learning more, you can read our piece on the lifespan of common oak trees here.
6. Oak Trees Improve Soil Quality
The roots of an oak tree help bind the soil together. This helps deter environmental concerns such as erosion, which may lead to more serious issues like drought and desertification.
On top of this, the canopy of trees helps to both capture and slow the rainfall, which, in turn, prevents an accelerated erosion due to rain.
Now, this might seem a little counterintuitive. How can water-based erosion cause the soil to end up in a drought?
Well, surface erosion of any kind can eventually impair waterways. We won’t get into all of the detail, but slower rainfall is actually a good thing! This doesn’t necessarily mean less rain, either.
How tree canopies work is that leaves and stem surfaces help to intercept the rainwater produced by storms, ensuring that the soil is watered adequately without being too forceful.
This idea even extends to the rest of the elements. The upper portions of an oak tree specifically help block wind from an area, as well as mitigating the spread of fires such as naturally-moving forest fires.
Along with protecting from air pollution, oaks also help to curb water pollution by soaking up toxins. Again, not a good thing for the tree as an individual but for our environment, it makes a great deal of difference.
Things like pesticides, trace contaminants, and even fertilizer nutrients are soaked up and allowed to break down slowly.
Eventually, these compounds are able to act as another form of a nutrient, which benefits all parties involved in this natural process.
These giants stand in the way of other, less forgiving, natural phenomena and help both plants and wildlife to live together more harmoniously and successfully.
Fertilizers play an important role in your oak tree and the surrounding soil. Oak trees benefit from specific fertilizers for maximum growth potential. Check out our recommendation of the best oak tree fertilizers here.
7. Decomposing Oak Trees Break Down Nutrients
Yes, that’s right! Decomposing oaks serve as a home for critters like salamanders, worms, termites, ants, and snails.
These tiny creatures play a big role in breaking down the tree to eventually turn back to the soil itself, providing nutrients for future generations of flora.
Not only do small creatures utilize decomposing oak trees, but the big ones benefit as well.
Here’s a test to see if you read the first part of this article. Remember that we mentioned foxes sometimes create their dens in these sorts of hollowed-out, fallen oak tree trunks? Great, you passed!
Jokes aside, so many creatures can benefit from oak trees. Both the oaks that are alive and thriving still and the ones that have fallen, been knocked down, or are beginning to decline.
That’s All We’ve Got!
Now you know- oak trees are amazing, sustainable plant life that can support humans, wildlife, soil, air, and entire environments around us.
If you ever find yourself questioning the worth of buying and planting a tree, remember these 6 ways that oak trees help the environment:
- Oak trees help animals
- Acorns provide a source of food
- Oak trees and canopies provide shelter
- Oak trees can support centuries of life
- Oak trees improve air quality
- Oak trees improve soil quality
Additionally, oak trees add a beautiful touch of scenery in areas that may otherwise appear dull or unattractive, bringing in some potential interest in the upkeep of a certain region or area.
If you’re looking for a statement tree in your yard, some sturdy new options to grow on a college campus (those campus squirrels have got to hang out somewhere- right?), or an environmentally beneficial option to plant on a larger chunk of land, oak trees are the one to beat!
Throw on some gardening gloves and relocate a sapling, or check out the 6 best places to plant an oak tree (and how to plant them.)
If you have been considering planting an oak from an acorn, relocating a sapling, or spending some time caring for oak trees in your area, we truly hope that this piece gave you the push that you need to do so.
If not for you or your kids, for the environment as a whole. Oak trees can help keep our earth beautiful and healthy, so let’s help them out and spread the love (and some acorns!)
Anenberg, S. C., Weinberger, K. R., Roman, H., Neumann, J. E., Crimmins, A., Fann, N., … & Kinney, P. L. (2017). Impacts of oak pollen on allergic asthma in the United States and potential influence of future climate change. GeoHealth, 1(3), 80-92.
Parker, V., & Muller, C. H. (1982). Vegetational and environmental changes beneath isolated live oak trees (Quercus agrifolia) in a California annual grassland. American Midland Naturalist, 69-81.
Smith, J. R. (1916). The oak tree and man’s environment. Geographical Review, 1(1), 3-19.
Seiler, Jeffrey E. (02, 2009). Tree Facts. NC Cooperative Extension.
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