Blue Ridge Illustrated: Oaks of Matthews State Forest

Anytime one dives into a new field of identification, be it birds, butterflies, flowers, or in this case trees, it is best to choose one "family" of similar species and hone in on those for clarity. That is exactly what we did at Matthews State Forest last Friday morning with the Galax High School Art Class. 14 students spent two hours in the field defining the difference between the bark, acorns, leaves and tree structure of six species of oaks while effectively blocking out the myriad of other species in the forest. Their investigative efforts began the latest BRDC poster: The Oaks of Matthews State Forest.

The exploration began with a compare and contrast exercise in the shapes of leaves collected from the forest floor. First they decided which were representatives of oaks and which were not. Then they defined a rounded lobe versus a pointed lobe to separate the white oaks from the reds. Lastly they looked at color and sinus depth to separate the collection of leaves into five clearly defined species. 

We then filtered back into the woods to find the leaves hanging on the trees where they documented each species with bark and leaf rubbings. Once the trees were identified the students scratched the forest floor for acorn samples to take back to the classroom. On our return trip we added one more species to the list, a post oak just off the path for a total of six species. They begin the in-class scientific illustrations this week!

Identified in the forest were:

Northern Red Oak, Quercus rubra
Black Oak, Quercus velutina
Scarlet Oak, Quercus coccinea
White Oak, Quercus alba
Post Oak, Quercus stellata
Chestnut Oak, Quercus prinus