Historically, Quercus robur is one of the most well-know of all exotic species in South Africa. Hailing from Europe, the English oak was one of the first trees to be planted by the early settlers in the Cape region as it was deemed to be suitable for providing wood for wine barrels. The quality of the locally grown trees was not as good as its European counterparts, but the trees proved to be tenacious and are now naturalized in different regions of our country.
The English oak is very long-lived and the oldest, living specimen (over 300 years old) can be found at the Vergelegen Estate in the Cape. In addition, many mature specimens can be observed, lining the streets of Stellenbosch, aptly nick-named ‘Eikestad’, which means village of oaks. Potchefstroom, in North West, is home to the longest avenue of oak trees in South Africa. Stretching for 7 km, the grand oaks contribute to the beauty and character of the city.
Quercus robur is synonymous with size, strength and longevity. Growing to between 10 and 18 m in height and even up to 40 m in ideal conditions, the tree is easily identified by the shape of its leaves. Pale green in colour, they have four or five lobes and are attached to the tree with a barely noticeable stalk. Deciduous, the leaves turn a pale golden to brown colour during autumn, before dropping to the ground, leaving the trunk and branches bare. Acorns, in contrast, are carried on a long stalk and also fall when ripe. The acorns are foraged by squirrels, rats and mice that in turn, attract predatory bird species eg. Owls and Mousebirds.
The tree is hardy and frost resistant with moderate watering needs. It benefits from a good depth of soil as the tree can reach substantial size proportions. Quercus robur is ideal for a large garden where it will provide ample shade during summer. This is a wonderful specimen to use as an avenue or street tree.