Tennessee State Botanist Todd Crabtree arrived in Sewanee for a meeting, carrying a gift — a handful of the largest acorns produced by any North American oak, a fact reflected in the plant’s scientific name, Quercus macrocarpa. This is Burr Oak (sometimes spelled Bur), a species that is found in Tennessee, but not on the Domain. In our state, it is pretty much limited to the Nashville basin.
The tree is unusual in that it doesn’t typically inhabit forests. Rather, it grows out in the open and so is an important member of the eastern prairie plant community. And, as with other prairie plants, it’s well adapted to fire. Very slow growing, the tree can reach the largest size of any North American oak, and it can live several hundred years — possibly up to 400! It’s a popular street tree. Todd said that his uncle, who worked in Washington, DC, used to walk on the Mall and picked up many Burr Oak acorns, which he would sprout and pot up. He gave away many young burr oak seedlings to friends and family members over the years.
Todd was in town to attend a meeting of the Tennessee Native Plant Society field trip committee, of which he is chair. Shown left to right are TNPS president Bart Jones, field biologist Dr. Larry Pounds, and Todd. Dennis Horn, who also serves on the committee, had to be away. The group is planning 12 or so field trips, across the state, for 2015 — it looks like a great schedule!