Quercus robur ▪︎ English Oak

oak heading
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Latin Name: Quercus robur
Common Name: English Oak

Quercus robur range map
Caudullo, G., Welk, E., San-Miguel-Ayanz, J., 2017.
Chorological maps for the main European woody species. (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Quercus_robur_range.svg)

Family: Fagaceae
Division: White
British Isles, s. Scandinavia, most of continental Europe
Sun/Shade: sun
Height: 40' - 60' × same under U.S. landscape conditions
Form: broadly rounded
Zones: 5 - 8

Flower: Male flowers in drooping catkin clusters; female flowers single or in pairs, inconspicuous.

Leaves: 2" - 5", 3+ pairs of rounded lobes, glabrous dark green above, paler beneath; petiole very short.

Fall Color: not good

Fruit: Acorn. Long and narrow, about 1", cap covers up to 1/3; ripens to a shiny brown.

Buds: rounded, plump, at an angle; chestnut to reddish brown

Bark: grayish-black, deep furrows

Wildlife: Birds, small mammals, deer. For a wonderful look at all the organisms Quercus robur supports, from mammals and birds, to invertebrates, to fungi, lichens, and mosses, see The Woodland Trust's "Oak Trees and Wildlife"  ("2,300 species supported by oak, 326 species depend on oak for survival, 229 species rarely found on trees other than oak") and the incredibly detailed and beautifully illustrated The Natural History of the Oak Tree: An Intricate Visual Exploration of the Oak and Its Environment by Richard Lewington and David Streeter (available used or through your local library).

Disease issues: Powdery mildew can sometimes be an issue.

Cultural Uses: Timber, especially for ship-building; the foundation of the British Royal Navy. Listen to "Heart of Oak," the official march of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom.

Folklore: Much has been written about the English Oak's Druidic importance in the British Isles, and its role in the spiritual and mundane life of other pre-Christian European cultures.

Where to find Quercus robur in Maxwell Arboretum:

Quercus robur location map


Learn more here from the English Oak experts at the Woodland Trust.


England was able to “rule the waves” partly due to her forests of native oak (Quercus petraea—Sessile Oak and Quercus rober—English Oak) from which to build the hulls of countless Royal Navy ships and her access to the enormous straight White Pines (Pinus strobus) of her American colony from which those ships’ masts were constructed. A good-size British warship could use as many as 4,000 mature oak trees in its construction.

Britain's Glory and Protection
Britain's Glory and Protection
“The artist of this eighteenth-century illustration has placed a tree in the center. to emphasize its crucial role in the well being of British society. Over the tree a Latin inscription reads ‘Britain’s Glory and Protection.’ This statement rang true since from timber ships like those depicted in the background were built the battleships and oceangoing vessels which served as the means for England’s supremacy as a military and trading power. Britania (right foreground), who symbolized Great Britain, holds a[n oak] seedling, the key to England’s future.” (William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, University of California, Los Angeles)
From: A Forest Journey: The Story of Wood and Civilization. John Perlin, Woodstock, VT: Countryman Press|W.W. Norton & Company, 2005.

In 1845, Sir John Franklin led two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror in search of the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic. Both ships became icebound near King William Island and while most of the original 129 men survived that first year, in April of 1848, after Franklin and two dozen of the crew had perished, the ships were abandoned. Over 100 men set out across the ice for mainland Canada and were never seen alive again. . . .

HMS Resolute in ice

HMS Resolute in ice
“H.M.S Resolute and H.M.S. Intrepid, winter quarters, Melville Island, 1852-53
When George Frederick McDougall drew the picture after which this print was made,
he was a Master on H.M.S. Resolute. Colored lithograph, 5 x 7 5/8 in.” National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

[under edit revision]

 . . . .  The following year, the Resolute was found floating free 1,000 miles away in the Davis Straight by an American whaling ship. Brought back to the United States, it was repaired and then returned to England where it continued to serve the British Navy for another 23 years as a supply ship. When it was decommissioned in 1879, a competition was held to design a piece of furniture that could be built from its timbers and gifted to the American president. The desk was designed by Morant, Boyd, & Blanford, the carvings executed by a William Evenden. The original designs are still held in the Admiralty Collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

Weighing 1,300 pounds, when it was received, the so-called Resolute Desk was placed on the second floor of the East Wing after a brief stint on display in the Green Room. It was later moved to the Broadcast Room during the White House reconstruction. In 1961, First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy discovered the desk—somewhat abused—and had it brought to the Oval Office. After some time in a traveling exhibit, it was placed on display in the Smithsonian Institution. The Resolute Desk was returned to the Oval Office by Jimmy Carter in 1977 where it has remained and been used by every president since (excluding G.H.W. Bush).

plan for the resolute desk

plan for the resolute desk
“Plan showing the front elevation, top and projection of the proposed President’s Desk to be made from the timbers of HMS Resolute (1850), an exploration ship. The ship had been abandoned in the Canadian archipelago, only to be recovered by a US whaler after they found it had broken free and was drifting. The US Government refitted the ship and sent it back to England as a goodwill gesture.” National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

A few modification were made to the desk over the years, including the installation of a panel over the kneehole to hide the leg braces of FDR. When President Kennedy installed a secret taping system in the Oval Office, a microphone and off/on switch were place in the desk.

President Socks. 1994. (The Clinton family cat.)
President Socks. 1994. (The Clinton family cat.)
Socks at the Resolute Desk. 1994. (The Clinton family cat.)


"H.M.S. 'Resolute', forming part of the expedition sent in search of Sir John Franklin in 1852, was abandoned in Latitude 74º 41' N. Longitude 101º 22' W. on 15th May 1854. She was discovered and extricated in September 1855, in Latitude 67º N. by Captain Buddington of the United States Whaler 'George Henry'. The ship was purchased, fitted out and sent to England, as a gift to Her Majesty Queen Victoria by the President and People of the United States, as a token of goodwill & friendship. This table was made from her timbers when she was broken up, and is presented by the Queen of Great Britain & Ireland, to the President of the United States, as a memorial of the courtesy and loving kindness which dictated the offer of the gift of the 'Resolute'."

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