The European Oak (Quercus robur) is native to most of Europe, including England. Quercus is the Latin family name for all oaks; robur means robust and refers to the strength of this species’ wood. It is sometimes known as the Common oak, English oak or Pedunculate oak.

A temperate hardwood, it is one of the dominant broad-leaved species in European forests. It has deep roots and prefers heavy, wet soils and full sun at lower to moderate altitudes. It grows to 65 – 130′ in height with trunks that are typically 15 – 30″ in diameter.

European oaks generally grow fairly rapidly for the first 80 – 120 years. After that, their growth gradually slows down. Along the way, the tree matures from a slender sapling with smooth bark to a deeply fissured, rough-barked tree of impressive girth. Decline starts setting in after about three centuries or so. English oaks measured in 1621 are the same height today as they were then.

As a keystone species, a European oak has a profound effect on the other plants and animals that share its environment. Those culinary delights, truffles, have a symbiotic relationship with oak trees. European pied flycatchers also depend on oaks for their nest holes.

An oak doesn’t produce acorns until it is about 40 years old and is most productive between 80 and 120 years old. In some years, oaks produce few to no acorns. Heaviest production occurs every 3 to 7 years during ‘mast’.

Its acorns are probably the sweetest and least bitter of all oak species. Wild boar, deer, badgers, squirrels, mice, ducks, pheasants, pigeons, and jays all feast on them. Domestic pigs also relish acorns.

European oak generally grows in cooler climates where it matures slowly. This slow maturation results in a fine, tight grain revered for wine barrels and flooring.

During Napoleonic times, five oak forests were planted in France for shipbuilding. Winemakers consider the oak from each forest to have distinctive characteristics and sometimes even specify from which forest they want their barrels made! Other major sources of European oak are Germany and England.

This is a particularly heavy and strong wood. The fact that it is so hard makes it nicely durable for flooring. It also doesn’t expand or contract much in response to weather conditions. Since it has relatively thin sap wood (.4 – 1.5″), it yields especially long and wide boards.

This species of oak measures approximately 1360 on the Janka Hardness Rating. During the test, a steel ball with a diameter of .444″ is embedded to half its diameter into a piece of wood. The pounds of force per square inch used during the test determines the wood’s rating. Since a particular tree’s rating can vary depending on its growing conditions and location, the scale shows a wood’s relative hardness when compared to other types of wood.

European oak generally has a tighter grain, smaller growth rings, and more even color than American white oak (Quercus alba). It ranges in color from light brown to a rich, dark brown. Perhaps most commonly, it’s a warm honey color.

It responds particularly well to different finishing techniques, including fuming. Fuming is the process of exposing wood to ammonia gas in a sealed chamber. This process requires a wood, like oak, that is high in tannins. Fumed European oak develops a rich, deep color similar to walnut.

Some famous European oaks include:

  • The Bowthorpe Oak in Bourne, Lincolnshire, UK. This tree is probably at least 1,000 years old. It appears in the Guinness Book of World Records.
  • The Majesty Oak Tree, Fredville Estate Park, Kent, UK. This ancient oak is fairly unique in that it’s a tall “maiden tree” rather than a “pollarded” tree. Pruning pollarded trees keeps them relatively short with a rounded top.
  • The Belvoir Oak in County Down, Northern Ireland, UK. Estimated at 500 to 700 years old, this oak might be the oldest tree in Northern Ireland.
  • The Major Oak, Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, UK. Legend says that Robin Hood once hid from the Sheriff of Nottingham in the hollow trunk of this ancient tree! It received its name in 1790 when Major Hayman Rooke included it in his popular book about the oaks of Sherwood Forest.
  • The Ivenack Oaks, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany. These giant oaks range in age from 500 to 1,000 years old.
  • Die König Ludwig Eiche (the King Ludwig Oak), Bad Brueckenau, Germany. This was King Ludwig I’s favorite tree. Supposedly, over 100 people could sit in its shade.
  • Chêne-Chapelle (Chapel-Oak), Allouville-Bellefosse, France. This tree hosts two separate chapels linked by a staircase. Monks built the first chapel in 1669 after lightning struck the already ancient tree.