Main content

12 mighty facts about oak trees

The oak is a symbol of endurance and strength but how much do you know about the nation's favourite tree?


Oaks are more likely to be struck by lightning than other trees. This enhances their significance for Druids who seek ‘arwen’ or inspiration which they believe can come through lightning. They call this ‘courting the flash’.

The writing’s from the gall

The most important texts in western history - including the Magna Carta, Newton's theories and Mozart's music - were written using oak gall ink.

It was the standard writing and drawing ink in Europe from the end of the Roman period to the 19th Century.

The ink that helped to write the history of our world

Many important historical texts are written in an indelible ink derived from oak trees

Oak wedding

Although it is rarely reached, the symbol of an 80th wedding anniversary is oak.

Medicine tree

The leaves, bark and acorns of the oak were believed to heal many medical ailments including diarrhoea, inflammation and kidney stones.

From tiny acorns

Acorns were once used as a coffee substitute and liquor was prepared from the sprouting shoots of acorns.

Historically, humans also collected acorns and processed them into flour for bread-making.


There are around 600 species of oak.

In Britain we have two native species which look very similar. The pedunculate oak or English oak produces acorns which hang on a stalk or peduncle. The acorns of the sessile oak are stalkless.

Oak wars

Oak is a seaworthy timber and was used to build many famous ships including HMS Victory which consumed 6,000 trees, most of them oaks.

As the Royal Navy grew, old oaks with sound timber were increasingly hard to find and wars were fought to secure supplies from abroad.


Oak forests provide a rich habitat and support more life forms than any other native trees.

Art of oak

The largest botanical specimen at the Natural History Museum is an installation by the artist Tania Kovats.

It is a thin slice of a 200-year-old oak and it adorns the ceiling of the museum's Treasures Gallery.

Tree by Tania Kovats. © The Trustees of NHM, London

Record breaker

German multimedia artist Bartholomaus Traubeck has turned the rings of an oak into the equivalent of a vinyl record.

Playing the rings of an oak tree

He uses a special camera that reads the grain on wooden discs sliced from trees and converts them into sound.


Oak is a durable construction timber and was used to build the Bronze-Age monument known as ‘Seahenge’.

The circle of oak stumps around an upturned oak altar were found on mud flats off the north Norfolk coast.

It’s thought they were used in funeral rites.

Green oak

Oak trees play a significant role in extracting carbon from the environment and also storing it because they are so long-lived.