Oaks support hundreds of butterfly and moth species
Five hundred and thirty-four to be exact. An oak tree supports more moths and butterflies than any other native tree species, and more than non-native species. Why is this important? Because we need insects for our ecosystem to function properly.
Not all oaks take forever to grow!
Some will take a bit longer than others, but even small oaks will support a lot of insects. Pin Oak and Willow Oak are fast growing oaks. (Two foot or more a year.). Red oak is just a tad slower. White oak, a gorgeous tree, is worth the wait at about a foot or so a year.
Great fall color
Their fall colors range from bright to muted shades of yellow, red and bronze. Their image is almost synonymous with autumn here in the deciduous Mid-Atlantic area.
A tree for posterity
Many live 200 years or more. Plant an oak tree today for your grandchildren. As the old adage goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.
The insect life they support helps feed songbirds. Birds need energy for migration and breeding. Baby birds need food. With oak trees, there are enough insects to support birds and to keep our beneficial insect populations robust.
Oaks require sun to grow. But what happens underneath their canopies? SHADE for you!
An oak for almost every site
Pin and Swamp White tolerate moist soil. Swamp White can even tolerate occasional standing water. Scarlet, Chestnut, and White tolerate thin dry soil. Chinkapin and Bur are tolerant of alkaline soils.
Acorns are relished by many animal species: deer, gray squirrels, red squirrels, chipmunks, wild turkeys, crows, flying squirrels, rabbits, opossums, blue jays, quail, raccoons, wood ducks—more than 100 U.S. vertebrate species eat acorns. Not to mention the artistic and visual interest these beautiful nuts provide.
Some oaks retain their leaves through the winter, creating a lovely contrast to bare branches elsewhere. (Black, Pin, Shingle, and White Oaks). Others have deep furrowed bark to provide interest. (Bur, Chestnut, and Scarlet Oaks).
Here’s a quick run down of the native oaks for our area.
Some species of oak are tap-rooted and are best transplanted as young container trees. No matter whether it is tap rooted or not, planting a young tree is easier and more likely to succeed than planting a large tree. The oaks we offer are in containers that are easily transported in your vehicle. Starting small is best!
Quercus alba – White Oak.
Moist, well-drained soil best, but tolerates less than ideal. Broad, dense crown. Grows 12’-15’ over a 10 to 12 year period, reaching 80 feet or so. Fall color is brown to rich red. Superior shade tree.
White Oak acorns are a preferred food source for many mammals and larger birds. The tree provides good cover for birds and mammals. Leaves persist longer than many deciduous trees, providing cover. The twigs are used as nesting materials by both birds and mammals.
Quercus bicolor – Swamp White Oak.
Dry to wet soil, occasional standing water OK. Dense wide spreading crown. 50’-60’ tall. Drought tolerant once established. Golden yellow fall color. One of the easiest oaks to transplant. Tolerates compacted soil.
Hairstreak butterflies, Duskywing skippers, and numerous moths feed on the foliage. The myriad other insects it supports create a buffet for woodpeckers, warblers, flycatchers, and other insect-eating birds. Wood Duck, Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse, hite-Breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Common Grackle, Rusty Blackbird, Brown Thrasher, Red-Headed Woodpecker, and Red-Bellied Woodpecker eat Red Oak acorns.
Quercus coccinea – Scarlet Oak.
Dry to moist, well drained soil. Irregular open crown to 75 feet. Tolerates very dry.
It is a member of the Red Oak family,and supports a similar array of insects, birds, and wildlife as Quercus rubra.
Quercus imbricaria – Shingle Oak.
Dry to moist, well drained soil. Broadly rounded, dense crown. To 75 feet.
Its glossy leaves provide a refined look in the landscape, belying its sturdy ability to tolerate drought and juglones from walnuts. The fall color ranges from reddish/yellow brown to dull brown. The leaves tend to hang on through winter providing visual interest.
It grows at a moderate rate of about 12”-18” per year, reaching about 60’ or so at maturity. Its wood was once used by early settlers in the Midwest for shingles, resulting in its common name. Shingle Oak prefers full or partial sun and adapts to many soil types, including loam, alkaline soil, clay, clay-loam, sand, and some rocky material. One thing it does require is good drainage.
Shingle Oak grows naturally in upland woodlands, well-drained areas of floodplain woodlands, edges of bluffs, tall riverbanks, and fence rows.
Hairstreak butterflies and Duskywing skippers, the caterpillars of other moths, aphids, treehoppers, plant bugs, lace bugs, leaf beetles and their larvae, the larvae of weevils, the larvae of wood-boring beetles, the larvae of gall wasps, the larvae of sawflies, grasshoppers, and walkingsticks rely on the foliage of Shingle Oak. These insects, in turn, support insect eating birds such as warblers, thrushes, vireos, and flycatchers.
Quercus macrocarpa – Bur Oak.
Dry to wet, wide spreading open crown. One of the largest and most majestic of the oaks. Grows 15’-20’ over a 20 year period, to about 80’. Fall color muted yellow to yellow-green or yellow-brown. Will grow in clay. More tolerant of city conditions than other oaks. Beautiful rugged look in winter. Flood, drought and alkaline soil OK.
The value of Bur Oak to wildlife is quite high. The leaves are eaten by the caterpillars of several butterflies, (Red-Banded Hairstreak), Northern Hairstreak, White-M Hairstreak, Banded Hairstreak, and Striped Hairstreak. Skipper and Duskywing Caterpillars also feed on the leaves, not to mention the caterpillars of several hundred moth species.
As with other Oaks, this insect buffet supports many insect-eating birds. The acorns are also a feast for birds such as Wood Duck, Mallard, Wild Turkey, Blue Jay, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Tufted Titmouse, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Red-Headed Woodpecker, and others.
Oak trees provide nesting habitat for such birds as the Northern Parula, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Yellow-Throated Vireo, Summer Tanager, Red-Tailed Hawk, and Swainson’s Hawk; the cavities of older trees provide dens for tree squirrels and Screech Owls.
Quercus muhlenbergii – Chinkapin Oak.
Dry to moist soil. Open, rounded crown to 50 feet. Can tolerate prolonged dry conditions once established. Fall color yellow to orange-brown to brown. Produces the smallest acorns of the oaks. Attractive foliage makes it a beautiful shade tree. Loves alkaline soil.
To avoid being too repetitious here with the value of oaks, this species also supports numerous buttefly and moth larvae, insects, birds and small mammals. Its acorns, branches, and even the cavities of declining specimens provide habitat.
Quercus palustris – Pin Oak
Moist to wet soil, will tolerate occasional shallow standing water and drier soil once established. Strongly pyramidal when young, open and spreading with age. Fast growing up to 100’. Grows 12’-15’ in a 5 to 7 year period. Fall color russet, bronze, or red. One of the most dependable for all color, and a wonderful symmetric look in winter. Lower limbs cascade downward created a graceful shape.
The usual myriad array of butterfly and moth larvae feed on Pin Oak. And many insects which in turn support many birds. The acorns also feed birds and small mammals. The Pin Oak, when it is sited near bodies of water, provides nesting habitat for herons, egrets, and other wetland birds that nest in colonies on trees.Red Banded Hairstreak and Pin Oak
Quercus phellos Willow Oak
Moist to wet soil. Will tolerate occasional standing water and drier soil once established. Narrow leaves make this oak the finest textured of the oaks. 40’-60’ with oblong oval crown. Fall color yellow to yellow -brown to russet red. The leaves are the narrowest of all the oaks, stay green until late fall and sometimes remain on the tree. Does best with acidic soil.
Yet again, butterfly, moth, and insect species too numerous to mention are supported by the Willow Oak. In turn, the insects support many birds. And don’t forget the acorns and the small animals like squirrels and chipmunks. They are especially loved by squirrels and Blue Jays.
Quercus prinus- Chestnut Oak
Dry to moist well drained soil. Rounded dense crown to 70 feet. The most drought tolerant of the oaks, along with Bur and Scarlet. Can grow 12’-15’ over 7 to 10 year period. Does well in dry, rocky soil.
Quercus rubra – Red Oak
Moist to well drained soil. Rounded, dense crown, to 75 feet. Red oak grows about twice as fast as white oak, but are a bit less tolerant of soil moisture variations. Fast growing. It is a bit tolerant of shade and can grow under the canopy of older trees.
Hairstreak Butterflies and many moths depends on Red Oak. Wood Duck, Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse, Bobwhite, Woodpeckers, and others bird relish the acorns. Many birds construct nests in Red Oak branches. Even as it declines it’s cavities provide shelter for tree squirrels, bats, woodpeckers, and other birds.
Quercus velutina – Black Oak
50’-60’ in height, irregular crown. Often found on poor,dry sandy or heavy clay hillsides. Tolerates very dry soil. It is sensitive to site disturbance so give it a wide berth once planted. In spring, the red velvety new leaves and yellow catkins are striking. Summer foliage is dark green and glossy.
It sounds repetitious, but yes! Hundreds of butterfly, moth, and insect species feed on this oak. And by now you know that birds will relish all these insects. And larger birds will love the acorns, as will small animals like chipmunks and squirrels.