Why we Love Oak Trees...and so Does Wildlife!
February 14, 2017
Oaks are one of the most recognizable trees in our landscapes. Here in North Texas, oak trees are long-lived trees that can adapt to a wide variety of soils, especially those species that are native to Texas. Oaks are valued for their huge, spreading branches that shade our landscapes and their golden foliage color come fall. Oaks vary greatly in size, ensuring you can find an oak tree to fit your landscape. For example the Shumard oak can grow to more than 100-feet, while smaller varieties such as the Post oak, prevalent in North Central Texas, grows no taller than 50-ft.
Not only are oak trees valued for their aesthetics and hardiness in our extreme Texas climate, they also provide food, shelter and shade for all kinds of wildlife we can enjoy watching in our own backyard and also act as a natural pest control.
Who inhabits the oak tree?
We have all observed squirrels collecting acorns for the winter, but did you know that oaks are the preferred meal of hundreds of moth and butterfly larvae?
Trees and Birds Protecting Each Other
Research shows that more than 500 moth and butterfly species are supported by the oak tree alone. This includes several species of hairstreak, duskywing and brushfoot butterflies. A mama bird might feed her young those caterpillars as well as beetle larvae borers and tent caterpillars. Interestingly, even though all these critters survive by munching the leaves of these stately trees, when you look from a distance, the damage these specific caterpillars do is often hardly noticeable and typically does little to no harm to the tree. This is the simple elegance of a functioning ecosystem.
When raising their young, most birds need protein to feed their growing chicks. They also need to have these provisions nearby so they don't expend all their energy hunting and gathering. If a family of tufted titmouse has a nest full of babies in an oak tree, they won't have to fly far to bring lots of nutrition for the little ones. That’s pretty handy natural pest control.
Plants native to their environment are naturally a good source of food for birds. Insects and their larvae inhabit oak trees and become sustenance for the wildlife around them. Studies have found Quercus species, such as the live oak or white oak, have the largest number of insects that utilize the tree as a host. These trees are truly vital plants in our communities.
If each one of us thinks of our yards as a wildlife preserve, and to garden in harmony with the creatures around us by planting the right plants in the right space and reducing our use of high-impact pesticides and chemicals, we can create a positive change in our environment with small steps.
What if you think your oak may have an uncontrollable infestation of an insect such as the tent caterpillar? In some situations, your tree may not have enough wildlife to keep the insects naturally under control. Birds may not be able to keep up with their growing population and the caterpillar could defoliate your tree enough to cause your tree to weaken, making it vulnerable to other pests or diseases. If you are unsure about a pest problem in your tree, call your local arborist for an evaluation.
Adding to Your Corner of the Urban Forest
When selecting and planting a tree, we have an opportunity not only to enhance our landscapes, but to also help sustain all kinds of living things, turning tree-planting into a powerful act of responsibility towards our environment. Ensure your oak trees grow strong by properly watering and feeding each year. Skilled pruning and a yearly check up by a qualified arborist will further extend the life, and beauty, of your valuable trees.