Acorns and Oak Leaves
Image by Jean Thomas

Oaks and Acorns on Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley

Episode 100: Oak Trees

William Bryant Logan joins the Nature Calls: Conversations for the Hudson Valley podcast to talk about Oak Trees in New York State. Having spent the last three decades working in trees as a certified arborist, Bill is the author of Sprout Lands, Oak, Air and Dirt, the last of which was made into an award-winning documentary. He is on the faculty of the New York Botanical Garden.  He joins us for a two part discussion.  The first is on oak trees.  The second (up next) will be about pollarding.

Oaks are one of the oldest and most widely spread trees on earth. They existed well before humans, most likely between 40 million and 60 million years ago.

Did you know that there are nearly 600 species of oak trees. They all fall into two categories: white oaks (with rounded lobe leaves) or red oaks (pointed lobe leaves).

The highest population of oak trees can be found in North America, especially in Mexico, where about 160 species grow, and 109 of those are endemic. Ninety species live in the US. The national tree of America is the oak tree.

Oak trees are so resilient because their seeds are cased in hard shells (acorns). Acorns and leaves are coated with tannic acid, which also prevents fungi and insects from harming them.

All oaks produce acorns, but because they only ripen on adult trees, they symbolize patience and endurance.

An oak can produce ~10 million acorns during its lifetime, but only 1 in 10,000 acorns grows up to be another oak tree. The rest become a key food source for birds (e.g. woodpeckers, ducks, pigeons), small mammals (squirrels, chipmunks, mice), as well as larger mammals (deer, bears).

Acorns are nutritious and contain large amounts of protein, carbs, fats, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and niacin.

Oaks played a crucial role in human history as well. Early humans built their homes, created tools, and constructed strong ships from oak wood. Furniture, flooring, and wine barrels are among many products that still use oak today.

Oak trees can either be deciduous or evergreen. They are more often evergreens in warmer climates with mild winters. Their canopy provides shade for plants and soil, a source of food to certain animals, and of course, oxygen to living organisms. As a keystone species, supporting many pollinators, an oak tree makes an excellent addition to any landscape.

Hosts: Tim Kennelty and Jean Thomas

Guest: Bill Logan

Photo by: Jean Thomas

Production Team: Linda Aydlett, Deven Connelly, Teresa Golden, Xandra Powers, and Annie Scibienski


(books authored by Bill Logan):

  • Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth
  • Oak: The Frame of Civilization
  • Sprout Lands: Tending the Endless Gift of Trees
  • Air: The Restless Shaper of the World
  • The Tool Book


Xandra Powers
Community Horticulture Coordinator
518-828-3346 x106

Last updated January 3, 2024