Spotlight on Oak – French VS Eastern European

There is a large variety of Oak trees across the globe. In this post, we highlight two of the most famous  species of Oak; The French Oak and the Eastern European Oak.

What Are The Botanical Names of These Oaks?

At its base, the Oak tree’s botanical genus name is Quercus. There are elements added to the end of this to differentiate between the many species: The Quercus robur (The French Oak) and the Quercus frainetto (Eastern European oak) are the two we will be focusing on today.

Where Can These Oaks be Found?

During the French Revolution, there was a marked increase in the number of oak trees planted in France, as they were seen as a symbol of freedom. 

Due to this increased propagation of the Quercus robur, alongside its pre-existing propensity in the French countryside, French oaks can be found far and wide across the country. 

Despite it being derived from the same species as English oak (Q. rubur), the French took better care of their forests during the 18th-19th century, thus securing a much more sustainable source for their timber.

The most popular Eastern European Oak is the Hungarian Oak. This, as the name suggests, can be found throughout Hungary, as well as in parts of Italy, the Balkans, and Romania. 

There are also some oaks from Russia that have been sold as Eastern European oaks; the most common of these is the Quercus mongolica

What Do These Oak Trees Look Like?

Oak trees can be found all over and are easy to identify. As with most trees, this can be done by observing its bark, leaves, acorns and shape. 

Oaks are split into two main categories for identification: White Oaks (Quercus, subgenus leucobalanus) and Red Oaks (Quercus, subgenus Erythrobalanus). White Oaks have grey-coloured bark and leaves, which have rounded lobes with no bristles. 

In contrast, Red Oaks have darker bark, and their leaves have pointed lobes with bristles. Both types are found in France and Eastern Europe.

When it comes to particular differences between the aesthetics of our two main subjects, the Eastern European Oak leaves have auricles (small flowers that grow at the base of the leaves) and are widest near the apex. The French Oak has long pedunculated acorns, and the stalks of its leaves are far shorter.

Oak trees of both varieties can grow up to 70ft in height with a 9ft width with their branches reaching up to 135ft.

What Does Oak Timber Look Like?

The main difference between the two can be seen within the lines of the timber. Eastern European oak usually has black veins running parallel to the grain. 

French oak has very distinctive wavy patterns in the grain. French oak also fumes well, developing a dark walnut-brown colour.

What varieties should you be aware of?

In addition to French or English Oak and Eastern European Oak, you can find several types of Oak across the world. Many of these variations lie within the physical appearance of the tree, rather than the colouration of the wood itself. 

Apart from French Oak, the most famous ones in the UK are American White Oak and American Red Oak – both are excellent options for internal projects, but have lower durability than French Oak when used outside for beams and sleepers.

What properties does it have?

Both French and Eastern European Oaks are characterised by having hard, high-strength properties. As the Timber Research and Development Association (TRADA) state in this article, both oaks can be ‘stained, polished, waxed, and glued satisfactorily, take nails and screws well, except near edges, when the wood should be pre-bored, and take liming and fuming treatments well’. They are excellent construction materials, and are well-respected and often used in a variety of wood-using industries.

What Are The Main Uses of These Oaks?

Oakwood is primarily used for flooring, cabinets, and other forms of homeware, due to its robust nature and how common it is. Additionally, Oak timber is often used for landscaping railroad ties and sleepers.

More commonly especially with French and Eastern European Oaks, the timber can be used to construct wine barrels due to its long life and structural integrity. 

French oak is especially sought after in this regard, as it offers anti-microbial compounds and particularly high tannin levels. Eastern European Oaks offer similar performance but come at a more affordable price. 

Did You Know?

That Native Americans, before the benefits of medicine we have today, would use oak bark (primarily from northern red oaks) to treat wounds and other ailments, such as asthma.

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