Valerie Blaine has lived on the West Coast among the redwood trees but she said they didn’t compare to the rugged beauty of the oak.
“There’s nothing like a big, old oak tree in the Midwest,” said Blaine, the nature programs manager for the Kane County Forest Preserve District. “They’re really stalwart trees. … They represent strength, I think.”
This month, the oak is being celebrated in what Gov. Bruce Rauner has proclaimed OAKtober – Oak Awareness Month, which the Kane County Board supported Tuesday with a resolution. The designation was intended to encourage organizations and individuals statewide to recognize the importance of oaks and oak ecosystems.
“Much of the state is dependent on oak ecosystems,” said Jan Sorensen, a native plants specialist at Wasco Nursery and Garden Center in Campton Hills. “The wildlife depends on the oaks and the plants that grow with them. The soils were developed by oaks and the plants that grow with them.”
But, she and Blaine said, oaks have been reduced by settlement and are being threatened by invasive species that block the sunlight oak saplings need.
According to the Kane County 2040 Green Infrastructure Plan adopted in 2013, 55 percent of the oak woodlands in Kane County that existed in 1939 remained in 2011.
“They disappeared so quickly,” Sorensen said. “It just accelerated with industrialization.”
Blaine said OAKtober creates an opportunity to “open people’s eyes to what a special treasure our oak woodlands are and how serious the decline is.”
Local Oak Awareness Month events include a free OAKtober Fall Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Wasco Nursery. Sorensen said it will include tree identification, children’s activities, speakers and information about planting oaks. It’s important for property owners to have plant diversity not only for disease-prevention purposes, she said, but also because different pollinators depend on different species and plants.
Also from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, a Mighty Oaks of Kane County program is planned at the Dick Young Forest Preserve near Batavia. It is free, but registration is requested. Visitors may go on a guided hike featuring oaks and learn how to identify the different species.
The white oak is the state tree.
Other forest preserves with oak populations include LeRoy Oakes, Hannaford Woods, Tekakwitha Woods, Johnson’s Mound and Bliss Woods, Blaine said.
“I think people take for granted oak trees a lot,” she said. “When you realize oaks are having such a difficult time regenerating – creating the next generation – will our kids see mature oak trees?”