RareQuest Update


Bur oak along the banks of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. Photo credit Chip Brown.

Headwaters Master Naturalist RareQuest Team 2 (Ginny Hoffman, Elaine Smith, and Chip Brown) conducted their final outing for the season on September 25th to search for Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak) in Rockingham county.

To get an idea of what they were looking for Elaine suggested they make a stop at a known specimen found in downtown Elkton, VA.  Indeed, this tree was magnificent. A recent measuring records a circumference of 229 inches and a height of 96 feet. That’s a diameter of just over 6 feet! There are several bur oaks at the site and each were producing the giant and unique acorns characteristic of this white oak species. This tree is listed on the “Remarkable trees” website that highlights great trees in Virginia here.

According to the Flora of Virginia, the bur oak is mostly restricted to the mountain valleys west of the Blue Ridge mountains, particularly along the banks of the Shenandoah River. But the bur oak is a common tree elsewhere in the Eastern United States, especially in the mid-western prairie states. It is well adapted to fires and does well when planted in suburban and urban areas which may account some for its widespread status.

With their search image for the bur oak established, the three continued on to the area where wild specimens of the tree were last observed in 1991, along the South Fork of the Shenandoah River outside of Elkton. Sure enough, at least three bur oaks still survive at the site. The original observation in 1991 stated “One medium-sized tree and several small specimens nearby. Healthy, but no sign of fruit.” On the current visit, there were three medium to large trees, the largest of which measured at least 3 feet in diameter; not as large as the “remarkable” tree in Elkton, but impressive none-the-less. And, while no young trees or sapling were observed, several acorns were scattered beneath two of the three trees.

For this team, the RareQuest season was a success: they were able to verify two of the three historical observations they were assigned. More than that, they had several great adventures in places they might not have otherwise explored.

For more information about the RareQuest Project, see the Virginia Master Naturalist website here.

– Chip Brown, Cohort II, September 2016

Photos below by Elaine Smith.