Plant of the Week: Bur oak

I last wrote about the bur oak in September, during our celebration of the Chelsea Grasslands. In that blog post, I mainly focused on the characteristics of the tree that make it a classic specimen of the tallgrass prairie. Winter is a chance to highlight different features of the native oak.

The bur oak is the largest oak native to the United States. Because of its size, (as well as its large leaves and large acorns), words like "majestic" and "mighty" are often used to describe the oak. Winter accentuates the magnificent structure of the tree. By January, the deciduous tree has dropped its leaves to reveal the structure. Winter is also a great time to observe the unique, deeply furrowed bark of this tree. The bare bur oaks provide winter interest in much the same way seed heads and grass stands do in other parts of the park.

It is worth noting that what makes this tree so impressive also makes it a survivor. As mentioned in my previous blog post, the bur oak is a pioneer species that invades transitional zones between the woodlands of the east and the prairies of the Midwest. Pioneer species are traditionally hardy; the bur oak is particularly known for its strength and durability. It is also adaptable to different soil types and extreme weather conditions. For example, the bur oaks are used as field windbreaks in the Midwest- they are planted in rows to protect crops from the extreme winds that collect across the flat landscape of this region. To envision this, compare it to the windy conditions our oaks endure on the High Line. Their survival is a testament to the toughness of this tree. The species name "macrocarpa" comes from the Latin terms "macro" meaning big and "carpa" meaning fruit- a perfect name considering the acorns can reach 1.5-2 inches in length in optimal conditions. The size of the acorns is just another impressive feature to love about the mighty bur oak.


Suitable for zones 3-9, which is a nice broad range. Please consider the size of this tree before planting at home - it is perhaps more suitable for parks or large scale landscapes. Oak wilt is the most serious disease you may encounter, but according to most sources the bur oak is free from other pests and diseases.


The Chelsea Grasslands at 18th Street.

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 500 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. Every week we share one of our gardeners' current favorites with you.

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line's most important gardening projects.

TD Bank is the Presenting Green Sponsor of the High Line.

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