Of White Oaks and Fall Colors

When I settled down to read Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, my attention was drawn to a beautiful color photo of oak leaves. The article, by Laurie Casey, was celebrating Illinois’ state tree, the white oak, which provides a majestic color show this time of year.

One tree authority, Donald Peattie, even called the white oak “the king of kings” in A Natural History of Trees. The magnificent shape of the tree, its fall colors of maroon and russet and wine, are all celebrated. And then, the article stated, “For all its glory, white oak is becoming rare.”

According to Kris Bachtell, a horticulturist at The Morton Arboretum, “White oak used to be a dominant tree here, but most were cut down to make plank roads, as well as furniture, flooring, boats and barrels.”

Imagine my distress, as a member of The Morton Arboretum and an avid fan of nature, to read that the demise of the white oak was caused by building plank roads a century and a half ago.

Imagine my despair, as an author of Plank Road Summer, to actually read the words “plank roads” in the Chicago Tribune, and then realize the tragic consequence of the roads.

And so I am putting out an appeal to readers of Plank Road Summer–if it is within your power, if you have the space and ability, please plant an oak tree! A  white oak, a bur oak, any of those majestic trees, would be a legacy worth planting.

As for those of us in lots too small to ever support an oak tree, we’ll just have to enjoy the trees we find in our neighborhoods, parks, and arboretums. And maybe wonder how many more there would be, had the white oaks not been made into plank roads.

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Categories: History of Plank Roads, Plank Roads | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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