One of the most popular trees throughout Sorren, the Oak is an intricately diverse plant with leaves and structures that grow in a number of ways. Its fruit distinguishes it from other trees: the acorn, which falls in autumn. There are three different kinds of Oak: The White Oak, the Red Oak, and the Black Oak.
Appearance. Oaks vary widely in size and the style in which they grow. Some so-called 'scrub oaks' never grow taller than a small bush, while others can reach heights of more than 30 peds. Their branches can grow quite naturally into strange or twisted designs and styles. However, the way in which these trees grow can also be manipulated to create beautiful structures. The Goltherrhim elves, for example, use Oak to create the beautiful tree-homes for which they are known. The color of the bark can vary greatly, from a very light tan to a russet brown into a deep brown or even a black.
The leaves of the Oak are usually intricate and lobed, though some may have a sharper, maple-like appearance. Others have a more oblong outline, appearing as an elongated circle, or also elliptical. The shape of the leaves can vary immensely. The hues that paint these leaves tend to be variations of dark greens, though the color may change depending on the climate of the place they live. Some species of Oak can only be found in tropical or warm regions and will never lose their leaves nor will their colours change when the weather turns cold. Most species of Oak, however, live in areas that experience at least a mildly cold winter and, in such cases, will lose their leaves in autumn after they turn to beautiful colors like a rich Aeruillin scarlet or a deep golden brown.
The catkins are made up of small, yellowish-green flowers. The acorns appear after the female flowers are fertilized in spring and provide one of the distinguishing factors of Oaks. The acorns, the fruit of the Oak, can be brown, tan, yellow, light green, deep green, grayish green, and so on. They vary in length from 1 nailsbreadth to 5 nailsbreadth in length. Oaks grow slowly and usually donít bear acorns until they are about 20 years old. Most Oaks live for 200 to 600 years.
The White Oak
White Oaks are a species commonly found throughout deciduous forests from mid-southern Santharia to deep into Northern Sarvonia. They are usually easy to recognize because of their grayish bark, which forms into shingle-like plates about 6 to 9 peds up the trunk. The branches are not as wound and gnarled as other species, but White Oaks have the most magnificent appearance because of their size and majestic beauty. They typically have green leaves, which may be a rich to dark green and tend to have five, seven, nine, or eleven lobes. The acorns are elongated and slender, with deeply grooved 'caps' and stems.
The Red Oak
Red Oaks are commonly found through Santharia but have been known to grow on some mountainsides in Northern Sarvonia. They can be distinguished by the color of their leaves, which turn a brilliant scarlet in the fall if the weather becomes cold enough. Because they tend to prefer warmer climates, many Red Oaks will never shed their leaves or change colours. In this case they can be distinguished by the golden or yellow hairs that grow on the underside of their leaves. These leaves often have seven or nine lobes; the leaves will have pointed tips and deep notches between the lobes.
The Black Oak
Black Oaks tend to grow in northern regions of Sarvonia, though they have been found in northern and mid Santharia as well. Oaks are also popular in parts of Nybelmar and some islands around Sarvonia. They are known for having very dark trunks that are fairly smooth, as well as branches and roots that are gnarled and twisted. They are some of the easiest trees to form into strange and elegant designs because of their natural ability to grow in unconventional ways. The Black Oak has five, seven, or nine lobes per leaf, but tends to have bigger leaf sizes than its sisters. The leaves vary in color, ranging from a deep, verderous green to very dark, shadowy greens.
Territory. Oaks can be found almost everywhere in Sorren, although they prefer dry, acidic soil, rather than damp areas such as river edges or swamps. They thrive in spinneys, copses, and large forests, but can also grow by themselves. In the latter case the single Oak tends to dominate the lesser trees around it and stands out as a landmark of the area.
Usages. Oaks are an important source of lumber for many, as they burn very slowly. People also use oak to make furniture and housing because the wood is hard and strong, but also because the grain tends to be quite beautiful. The wood and bark contain a natural substance that is used to prepare both paper and leather. This substance, called "Al'merŪn" by the elves, is quite acidic and even a small amount can tan a great many hides when prepared properly.
Oaks provide homes for many forest creatures, including owls and kuatus (squirrels). Hedgehogs, slinkers, and other such animals will also find a home within the strong branches of the Oak. The acorns provide food for many rodents and birds.
Reproduction. In spring, oaks produce small yellowish green flowers. The male flowers form in long catkins that dangle from the tree and produce a large amount of pollen, sometimes making it seem as though the oak has a yellow mist hanging about it. This pollen fertilizes the female flowers and after a few weeks, the female flower will have become an acorn. In autumn, these acorns are shed and typically picked up and eaten by forest creatures.
Myth/Lore. Because the Oaks have such a long lifespan, they have become a symbol of longevity in many cultures. It is believed in some elven cultures that each elf's soul has a great Oak that shares their spirit, and that the elf and tree grow in tandem and live and exist together even though the two may never encounter one another. It is believed that, when the tree dies, so will the elf, and vice versa. This belief is most popular in times of plague when many elves believe that the humans are cutting down too many trees.
Because of the longevity associated with the tree, some have also come to think of the tree as representing wisdom, and have a superstition that Oaks carry the souls of old men or elves that have passed away. Thus, in some cultures, the tree is held in great respect and certain rituals must be done before an Oak is cut down or harmed in any way. Milk is poured out at the base of the tree's roots and the tree is sung to, asking its permission for the use of its wood. The tools used to cut or saw into it must be new and sharp, and washed in milk just before they touch the Oak's trunk. Finally, when the leaves are stripped from the felled tree, rather than being mulched or composted, they are gathered, dried (usually in some village elder's backyard) and then used to light various ceremonial fires throughout the year, such as the Solstice Light, the Midwinter Fire, and the betrothal cookouts.
Information provided by Rayne Avalotus