Ask any grade school students, and I bet they could tell you all sorts of factual tidbits about the United States of America.
Our nation’s capital? No problem.
The first national park? While I may briefly second guess myself, I’m pretty sure it’s Yellowstone.
The 50th state? I’ve always seen this as a 50/50 chance of either Hawaii or Alaska, but I bet my soon-to-be middle-school child would tell me Hawaii.
The national bird? For some reason, the vast majority of students can quickly identify this as the bald eagle. It also doubles as the national animal.
So if you know the national bird, all you smarty-pants third-graders who I’m sure read my article, then what is the national tree? Hmm? Perhaps you have to get on Google and find that one out.
And when you do, could you whisper it in my ear, so I can at least pretend like I knew it?
Way back in 2003, Americans voted, quite resoundingly I might add, that the oak would become America’s National Tree. Really, it wasn’t even close. The mighty redwood finished a distant second with the dogwood, maple and pine rounding out the top five.
Now, I don’t doubt that some of you may see Colorado’s native oak, the Gambel (Quercus gambelii), as a nuisance more than a national treasure. But before you chastise all those root sprouts that seem to pop up throughout your property or bemoan how you are always cutting back its limbs as it infringes on your lawn, know that it also is very drought tolerant, relatively pest free and can have attractive fall foliage.
Commonly referred to as scrub oak, Gambels are typically multi-stemmed, although if they do receive a fair amount of water, they can get quite large. In fact, the tallest recorded Gambel in Colorado was in the Pagosa Springs area and reached 68 feet in height. (Go to The Colorado Tree Coalition’s website, www.coloradotrees.org, to get a full list of all the Colorado champion trees – best hour you’ll spend all day.)
With more than 60 species of oaks growing in the U.S., their diversity may have been what won the contest – only so many Californians could stuff the ballot box with their redwood votes. We all love the shade and beauty they provide, but also desire their lumber qualities.
In the landscape, initial growth may be slow, but that isn’t always a bad thing. Fast-growing trees – those that can put on multiple feet of new growth every year – tend to be weaker and more susceptible to breakage during windstorms or heavy snowfall. But not the oak – that slow growth makes for a very strong and durable tree.
If Gambels are not of your interest, there are plenty of other Quercus choices for our climate. Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) has an open, rounded form that is very tolerant of our soil types. I’ve always liked its ridged bark on the branches. At maturity, expect about a 60-foot tall tree.
Other good choices for landscapes that have enough space would be the English oak (Quercus robur) or swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor). But, remember, you don’t want to plant a tree that outgrows its space in 20 years. The majority of these oaks will eventually reach heights of 40 feet or more with a similar spread.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.