Bur Oak

Quercus macrocarpa Michaux – Fagaceae – beech family

Albion, like many other midwestern cities, has a ‘Burr Oak Street’ named after this tree. The middle English spelling variant ‘bur’ has been used traditionally and more or less adopted by botanists as the spelling for the common name of this species.

The bur oak has relatively long, fuzzy bracts on the acorn cap that make the acorn look a little like a burr that could stick to clothing or fur.   It’s also known as a mossycup oak.  In Albion, my biology students and I refer to the bur oak as the ‘T. rex’ of oak trees.  The trunks may be massive, but they often sprout wimpy branches near the base, not unlike the relatively tiny forelimbs of a massive tyrannosaur.

According to survey records, bur oaks and black oaks were common scattered trees of grassy savanna areas (variously called oak savannas or oak openings) which were were fire-maintained habitats found commonly in southern Michigan before European settlement in the 1830s.  These habitats are quite rare today as we prefer buildings over fires!

Although not really common on tree lawns, travelers pass a nice row of bur oaks on the north side of business 94 near exit I-94 exit 124.  There are large bur oaks in the front lawn of Wesley Hall on the Albion College campus and in Victory Park.

Bur oaks have much more regular and prominent longitudinal grooves in their bark than do the closely-related white oaks, which do not have burr-like acorns.

The nicest bur oak that we have surveyed on a tree lawn is located on the NW corner of E Cass and N Mingo streets.  There are only two bur oaks on Burr Oak Street, both relatively small! They are located close together on the W side of the street, not very far N of the old railroad tracks.