Why do so many sentinel bur oaks grace farm fields in Caledon and other parts of southern Ontario?
Bur oaks spread their muscular limbs on the Peel Plain, the flat agricultural land of south Caledon. Most of the large standalone trees in farm fields are this species.
Like all old trees, these oaks are guardians of time; their presence on the landscape speaks of connections to the past and sparks intriguing questions.
Why do so many sentinel bur oaks grace farm fields in Caledon and other parts of southern Ontario? Bur oaks are far from the most common of our native trees. They’re not even the most common species of oak – red oaks, with the familiar sharp-lobed leaves lay claim to that title.
One reason bur oaks are able to flourish in farm fields is their affinity for sun and dry conditions. In mid-continent, bur oaks can colonize open prairie given the opportunity. Large bur oaks can even withstand grass fires due to thick, protective bark.
So the ability to thrive in open landscapes might explain their long-term tenure on our agricultural landscape, but this doesn’t necessarily explain why farmers planted them.
Perhaps their nutritious acorns are the key. Bur oak acorns contain less bitter tannin than red oak acorns and are very appealing to wildlife, including deer. So here’s a stretch – did farmers plant bur oaks to lure deer? Was venison the objective – a welcome dietary change for farm families in the pre-supermarket era?
There are likely farmers around, approaching the vintage of some of the younger bur oaks, who could set me straight on the reasons they were planted.
Regardless, we should take up spade and shovel and plant them too. Along with their abilities to thrive in sun and drought and feed wildlife they can tolerate modern insults like pollution and soil compaction. The early farmers of Peel left us a legacy of regal trees. We should do the same for future generations.
Question: Can anyone explain why bur oaks were planted in Peel so many years ago?