The red oak: a self-portrait

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“I am a red oak (Quercus rubra), the most common oak in Eastern Canada. My species is fairly abundant in southern Québec but nonetheless, I consider myself quite exceptional. For centuries, my ancestors and peers have been used to build boats, barrels, furniture, woodwork and panelling, or to cover floors. For many years, their bark was used to tan leather.

“Being a twenty-metre-tall hardwood tree, I generally stand in a park or forest. In summertime, many people picnic beneath my cooling canopy. My abundant leaves quiet the noise and capture CO2 and particulate pollution. I do my bit for the environment!

“Humans are not the only ones who use me. A groundhog dug his burrow among my roots and garter snakes spend the winter there. In the crotch of a big branch, a robin built its nest. One day, at the very top, an oriole hung its fibrous, pocket-shaped nest, in which it shelters. In the folds of my rough bark, spiders, insects and mites hide to escape the view of warblers and other insect eaters.

“I also serve as a pantry for all kinds of hungry beings. In springtime, the nectar of my flowers attracts myriad insects which, in exchange, pollinate the flowers and ensure production of my fruit. Some eat my foliage, but the high level of tannin in my leaves discourages the most intractable and limits the damage.

Since my early twenties, come fall, when my lobed leaves take on a coppery tone, my acorns nourish hordes of chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons and deer. I have even seen a family of mallards leave the nearby stream to enjoy the feast. And I should mention the scrawny fox who came close to breaking his teeth on my tough fruit, and the bear who just kept on stuffing himself.

“I can’t even count my offspring. Squirrels planted many of my descendants close by and then forgot where they had hidden my acorns. I’m grateful to them. I don’t fear the future. With a little luck, I’ll live 300 years.”


More from this author by clicking on his photo below.

Jacques Prescott


Jacques Prescott83 Posts

Jacques Prescott est biologiste, professeur associé à la Chaire en éco-conseil de l’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi et co-fondateur de l’Animalium, le musée zoologique de Mont-Tremblant. Spécialiste de la biodiversité et du développement durable, il est l’auteur de nombreux livres et articles sur la faune et la conservation de la nature. Il nous fait l’honneur de rejoindre notre équipe de collaborateurs et signera chaque mois une chronique intitulée Faune et flore. / Jacques Prescott is a biologist, associate professor with the Chair in Eco-Counselling of the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, and co-founder of Animalium, the zoological museum of Mont-Tremblant. A specialist in biodiversity and sustainable development, he is the author of numerous books and articles about wildlife and nature conservation. He has honoured us by joining our team of contributors and will write a monthly column entitled Wildlife and Habitat.


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