Plant of the Week: Bur Oak
The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.
This week we share one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.
Quercus macrocarpa, the bur oak, is a large deciduous tree native to central and eastern North America. It is often an early successional plant, gaining a foothold in prairie grasslands before other tree species. Young bur oaks, such as the ones on the High Line, often have corky ridges along their limbs that give them a unique presence in the landscape. The bark is dark gray to brown, and corky ridges give way to deep furrows on mature bark. The bur oak can grow up to 80 feet tall on a stout trunk with limbs that end in multiple small terminal buds. Luckily for the High Line horticulture staff, it is also one of the slowest growing oaks, with some specimens living to be 300 years old! We are carefully watching and monitoring the growth of our bur oaks, to make sure that they don’t outgrow their space on the High Line.
The bur oak grows best in full sun and in average, well-drained soil, but it is well adapted to a variety of soil conditions and does well in urban environments. The bur oak, also called the mossycup oak, gets its common name from the fringed, bur-like cap found atop the large acorns it produces in late summer and fall. The acorn is also where it gets its scientific name macrocarpa, macro meaning large and carpa meaning seed – it has the largest acorn of any oak native to North America.
Acorns from the bur oak are an important food source for wildlife and are one of the most palatable for human consumption. Commercially, wood from the bur oak is an important source for furniture, flooring, barrels, ship-building and firewood.
WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT
Late winter is a great time to observe the striking form of this handsome native oak tree, which you'll find growing in the Chelsea Grasslands near West 18th Street.