Sunday, December 11, 2016

In My Own Backyard

I feel like a fool. For years I have been curious about oaks in my area. In my neighborhood, in the places where I shop, on the field trips that I take … all of these have been places to discover oak trees. I have collected leaves, picked up acorns, and inspected twigs in efforts to identify them and published blogs that detailed my findings. This fall, in my own yard, I finally realized that I had a species that I had never identified – blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica).

Blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica) over the driveway
I had noticed saplings of this unknown oak shortly after we moved here, next to the driveway. The leaves were thick, sometimes glossy, hairy on the back, and shaped like a cartoon foot with 3 fat toes. In the fall they would turn beautiful shades of deep red. I thought that they might be post oaks (Q. stellata). At some point, I figured out that they were not post oaks and that was it. Apparently, I never thought about them again.

My blackjack oak sapling

This year’s brilliant fall colors reawakened my curiosity, and I got out my favorite oak identification resource again. Blackjack oak seemed to be a good match based on leaf shape. The range seemed a good fit such that it would be in this area.  

It seemed odd that I would only have smaller plants; I had never seen any large ones in the neighborhood.

A few days later I was walking around the yard and I noticed the leaves on a low branch coming off the trunk of a large tree out back. Was that the same leaf as the smaller plants out front? I gathered leaves from the low branch and went back to the books. 

I contacted a knowledgeable friend and sent pictures. He pointed out that Weakley's identification keys pointed to a closer examination of the length of the petiole and the hairs on the underside in order to differentiate it from Southern red oak (Quercus falcata). I gathered a few Southern red oak leaves and compared them; my leaves clearly pointed more toward Q. marilandica var. marilandica.

Further research shows that it could be a hybrid with Quercus falcata) which is also in my yard. Either way, I am thrilled to have this one figured out. I could not find any fresh acorns this year, but I'll be on the lookout for them in the years to come.

1 comment:

  1. You continue to amaze me, Ellen, with your curiosity and depth of research and knowledge.