The Oak Hotel

By Anita Sanchez

This time of year, my gar­den and lawn are car­pet­ed with leaves — not the orange and gold of autumn, but the dry, brown leaves of oaks. A lot of the Lan­dis Arbore­tum is cov­ered with the same brown rug. The fall­en oak leaves will be there for quite a while — they’re a lot more durable than most leaves. They form a dense mat, damp and sol­id, almost as tough as leather.

Paus­ing in the rak­ing, I observe that every sin­gle oak leaf has holes in it. Big holes, lit­tle holes, pin­pricks — all sorts of pat­terns of holes: the chew­ings and nib­blings and gnaw­ings of a mul­ti­tude of insects. 

They’re inter­est­ing pat­terns to look at, form­ing a sort of topo­graph­i­cal map of insect feed­ing habits. Some of the bugs take bites from the out­side rim and chew their way in. Oth­ers eat a round hole in the mid­dle of the leaf, neat as if cut with scis­sors. Some tiny insects, called leaf min­ers, tun­nel through the inner lay­ers of the leaf, eat­ing as they go. Tiny insects with the creepy name of leaf skele­toniz­ers” eat only the soft­est tis­sue between the oak’s stur­dy veins, leav­ing a net­work of bones.”

As much as I love oak trees, I’m not sad to see all these chew­ings. A huge infes­ta­tion of insects would be a dis­as­ter, but healthy oaks can with­stand a cer­tain amount of insect nib­bling. An oak can poten­tial­ly be food for hun­dreds of species of insects, there­by mak­ing it an arbo­re­al restau­rant for bugs. And for bug-eat­ing birds.

This is an intrigu­ing fact to con­sid­er, espe­cial­ly when you’re shop­ping for a species of tree to plant in your back yard. A non-native species like Nor­way maple, Siber­ian elm, or Chi­nese gingko isn’t food for our local insects, and so will have leaves nice and neat, with few­er holes — but the bugs and there­fore the birds go hungry.

It requires a rev­o­lu­tion­ary gar­den­er to wel­come munch­ing cater­pil­lars, leaf min­ers, and bee­tles into the gar­den and the for­est. It’s hard to turn your head and look away from holes in the very leaves you’ve so care­ful­ly nur­tured. But that’s the way nature works. Want to see but­ter­flies? You must wel­come cater­pil­lars. Want to see war­blers? Allow the insects they feed on to share your turf.

Oaks, per­haps more than any oth­er trees, pro­vide a huge amount of nutri­tion to the ecosys­tem of the for­est or the back yard. Not just the acorns, which are high-qual­i­ty nutri­tion for dozens of species of wildlife. Every oak leaf is a poten­tial feast for the insects of sum­mer and fall, and so oak leaves offer the promise of a feast for the birds of spring.

Winter 2017

Volume 35 , Number 1

Share this

The Latest from Landis

Oct 07, 2023 | Nolan Marciniec

The Landis community mourns the loss of Anne Donnelly on October 4, 2023

Anne Donnelly was the first of the many friends I’ve made at the Arboretum and... read more

Oct 01, 2023 | Fred Breglia, Executive Director

From the Director’s Desk: Update on the Big Tree Search

Landis Arboretum has successfully kicked off its most recent Big Tree Search, and the tree... read more

Oct 01, 2023 | Erin McKenna Breglia

From the Garden: Your Autumn Garden Must Haves!

It’s certainly been a rainy summer, but the rain has helped keep our plants green... read more

Oct 01, 2023 | Nolan Marciniec

Landis Portraits: A Series About the People Behind the Plants at the Arboretum - Chuck Mueller

Chuck Mueller Volunteering, Chuck Mueller said, “is something you have to believe in . ... read more

Oct 01, 2023 | Nolan Marciniec

Volunteers Celebrate Meeting House Renovation

Shawn Bevins, Jim Paley, Craig Blevins, Fred Breglia, and Peter Bakal On a Sunday afternoon... read more

Oct 01, 2023 | Sam McClary

Apples and Man: A Book Review

Apples and Man, by Fred Lape “Apples and Man,” written by Arboretum founder Fred Lape... read more

News Archive