VDOF reports that the culprit appears to be a very tiny insect known as a gall wasp. This type of insect injects eggs into plant tissue, which forms a swelling or ‘gall’ around the injection site. Inside a hollow space within the gall, the developing egg hatches into a larva, and ultimately emerges from the gall as an adult wasp. Gall wasps are generally kept under control by other insects. However, in rare instances they can become so abundant that their galls can cause noticeable damage and that appears to be what is happening this year. Though the VDOF tells me that my White Oaks may survive, only time will tell.
The White Oak is one of several species of tree native to Virginia that are endangered. This year, as in years past, the VDOF is asking the public to help in preserving Virginia species by collecting acorns and seeds and delivering them to the nearest forestry department office. Virginians can help preserve native tree species by collecting acorns and seeds from 13 needed species. Acorns and seeds must be received by October 10.
The 13 species of tree most needed are: Alleghany Chinkapin; Chinese Chestnut; Hazelnut; Black Oak; Chestnut Oak; Northern Red Oak; Pin Oak; Swamp Chestnut Oak; Swamp White Oak; White Oak; Willow Oak, and Black Walnut.
The best collection sites are suburban lawns, roads and sidewalks because a single tree located in these areas makes identifying the acorns easier. The VDOF cannot collect from trees in the forest, since it can be difficult to identify acorns when many different species are nearby and they simply do not have the seasonal manpower to do the job. So, they are asking the public to volunteer an hour or two to ensure the survival of the native trees of Virginia.
Joshua McLaughlin from the VDOF reminds anyone who is interested in collecting acorns or seed to: use brown paper bags (no plastic bags) to hold the acorns or seed; identify the tree species on the bag (you might want to include a leaf from the tree), and to not combine acorn or seed from different tree species in the same paper bag. All acorns and seed should go to your nearest VDOF office the VDOF offices nearest me are:
Virginia Department of Forestry
675 Frost Avenue | Map and Directions to this office.
Warrenton, Virginia 20186
Virginia Department of Forestry
12055 Government Center Parkway | Map and Directions to this office.
Fairfax, Virginia 22035
To help identify the trees in your yard there are descriptions and pictures below. All the images are from Virginia Tech.
The Allegheny Chinkapin is a spreading shrub or small tree that can reach 20 feet. The leaves are similar to the Chinese or American chestnut only smaller and are easily confused. They are 3-6 inches long with pointed teeth. The nuts are enclosed in spiny burs about an inch in diameter and golden in color. The nuts of Allegheny Chinkapin range from chocolate brown to blackish-brown. Nuts typically mature in late September in Virginia.
The American chestnuts (Castanea dentata), once prominent in the eastern U.S. landscape, all but disappeared in the mid-1900s when chestnut blight eradicated nearly all of hem. Blight resistant varieties of Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima) are sought to restore and maintain the chestnut. The leaf of the Chinese Chestnut is prominently veined and oblong, 5 to 8 inches long, coarsely serrated (but not as strongly toothed as American chestnut), shiny green above and paler and fuzzy below. The fruit is encased in a large spiny (very sharp) bur 2 to 3 inches in diameter, each containing 2 -3 edible nuts, 1 to 1 ¼ inches in diameter, shiny brown, typically flattened on 1 or 2 sides.
The Chestnut Oak has leaves that are 4-6 inches long, elliptical in shape with a crenate or scalloped edge. The leaves are shiny green above and paler below. The acorns are large, 1 to 1 ½ inches long, oval in shape and separate from the cap when mature. The acorn cap is thin, warty and shaped like a teacup, edges of cap are very thin; matures in one growing season, ripening in the fall.
Swamp Chestnut Oak
The Swamp Chestnut Oak is a well-formed tree that grows up to 80 feet tall, and has a narrow crown. The leaves are oval in shape 4 to 8 inches long, 3 to 5 inches wide, with large round blunt tooth edging. The leaves are dark green and shiny above, pale and downy below. The Swamp Chestnut Oak acorn is 1 to 1 1/2 inches long, chestnut brown, bowl-shaped cup covers about 1/3 of nut, cap is rough scaly and the stalk is short.
Black oak leaves are alternate, simple, 5 to 9 inches long and have 5 to 7 irregular bristle tipped lobes. The leaves are lustrous and dark green in color on the upper surface and paler or coppery below. The bark is thick, nearly black in color and deeply furrowed. The acorns are 1/2 to 3/4 inch in length, red-brown in color, and enclosed for 1/3 to 1/2 its length by the acorn cup. The Black Oak is often confused with the Red oak which has shallower and more evenly lobed leaves, reddish inner bark, smaller buds and a larger acorn enclosed less than 1/4 of its length by the acorn cup.
Swamp White Oak
The leaves of the swamp white Oak are oblong, 3 to 7 inches long, 2-4 ½ inches with large irregular blunt tooth edging, the leaves are a shiny dark green above, very pale below. The acorn of this tree is 1 inch long, tan, borne singly or double on a long stalk (2 inches); bowl-shaped cap covers about 1/3 of nut.
Northern Red Oak
The leaves of the Northern Red Oak are oblong and 5 to 8 inches long with 7 to 11 bristle-tipped scalloped lobes, and are a dull green to blue-green above and paler below. The a corns are 3/4 to 1 inch long and nearly round; cap is flat and thick, covering about 1/4 or less of the acorn, resembling a beret; matures in 2 growing seasons, in late summer and fall. The Northern Red Oak is a medium sized to large tree that reaches up to 90 feet tall, develops a short trunk and round crown
The Pin Oak a medium sized tree that is very pyramidal in shape. The leaves are 3 to 6 inches long, oval in outline with 5 to 9 bristle-tipped lobes and irregularly deep sinuses and the major lobes form a U-shape. The leaves are bright green above and pale below. The Acorns are 1/2 inch long, striated, round (but flattened at the cap); thin and saucer-like cap covered with red-brown scales; matures after 2 years, and fall to the ground in the late fall.
The Willow Oak is a medium sized tree up to 80 feet tall that forms a dense oblong crown. Often the lower branches need to be pruned off. The leaves are a simple and linear shape (willow-like) 2-5 inches long. The acorns are tiny and easy to miss in a lawn, 1/4 to 1/2 inch across, nearly round and yellow-green, turning tan when older; caps are thin, saucer-like and cover only 1/4 of acorn.
One of my favorites is the White Oak, a very large tree with a rugged, irregular crown that is wide spreading. The leaves of the White Oak is oblong to ovate in shape, 4 to 7 inches long with 7 to 10 rounded, finger-like lobes that are characteristic of many oaks. The tip of this leaf is rounded and the base is wedge-shaped. The color is green to blue-green above and whitish below. The White Oak has an oblong acorn with a cap that is warty and bowl-shaped and covers 1/4 of the fruit; cap always detaches at maturity; matures in one growing season in the early fall
The Black Walnut is a medium to large tree up to 100 feet in height and the bane of my existence because of the toxicity to other plants. There are plants that grow well in proximity to black walnut, there are certain plant species whose growth is hindered by this tree and it cost me a frustrating few years until Roger Flint the local NRCS Conservationist told me my problem was probably the Black Walnuts to the east. The leaves are compounded, 12 to 24 inches long with 10 to 24 leaflets which are poorly formed and finely serrated, and each about 3 to 3 1/2 inches long. They are yellow-green to green above, slightly paler below. The fruit is 2 to 2 1/2 inches across, with a thick, green husk beloved by squirrels. The husk contains an irregularly furrowed, hard nut that contains sweet, oily meat (edible) that matures in late summer to fall.