Oak Trees: Some Mighty Symbolism

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The “mighty oak” is the king of the forest. Oaks can be red or white, deciduous (seasonal) or evergreen. Oak trees have many uses such as durable timber, making foods and wine, and as habitats for animals. Oaks symbolize strength, long life, hospitality, and honor. Oaks are sacred to many religions. Acorns (fruit/nut of oaks) symbolize many things too.  

What Type Of Tree?

Oaks are one of the most common trees in North America.  The word “oak” in many languages comes from the word meaning “tree.”   Oaks trees are basically a symbol of trees themselves.

There are many different kinds of oak trees.  We can divide them in two basic ways: by color (red and white) as well as when their leaves fall.  Many oaks are deciduous (seasonal shedding of leaves), but some are evergreen (green for more than one growing season).   

Oak trees grow large and wide, reaching a height of 45 feet and a width of 35 feet.  They also can live hundreds of years.  Oaks are the most widespread hardwood tree of the United States.  

Why Are Oak Trees Useful? 

Oaks support more life-forms than any other North American tree genus, providing food, protection or both for birds to bears, as well as countless insects and spiders, among the enormous diversity of species.

— “Why Should You Plant Oaks”

Oak trees are known as the “king of the forest,” highlighting their importance. 

They have a range of uses.  The tough and durable timber made from oak trees allowed ancient buildings to be long lasting.  Oak also were a common source of planks for shipping from the days of the Vikings until the 19th Century.  

Rich in tannin, oak trees are used in the tanning of leather.  Oak bark has been used since ancient times for medicinal purposes.   Oak is also used to make various wines, oak wood chips are used to smoke foods, and acorns are used to make coffee and flour. 

Oaks are important for wildlife and are important for healthy forests.   

Mighty Oak 

“Mighty as an oak” is a common saying, showing how oak trees symbolize protection, strength and endurance.  Oaks symbolize people and things that are tough and hard to beat.  They also symbolize the ability to hold your ground, take whatever is tossed your way.  

The long life span of oaks also means they symbolize long life, stability, and wisdom.  Wisdom particularly comes from experience and the ability to judge things carefully beyond the whims of the moment.  A wise person can be “tough but fair.”  The mighty oak can be their symbol.  

Oak trees can symbolize good tidings and luck, being able to handle anything that comes into its path.  It is said that you make your own luck and stability and wisdom will definitely help there.  

Shade Tree 

The wide branches of oak trees make them good places to find shade and relaxation.  

Home to many living things, oak trees also are symbols of rest and safety for humans.  They are also symbols of caring and compassion.  Oak trees are always willing to take care of you.  

Oak trees also symbolize hospitality and a welcoming attitude.  

Other Symbolism  

Oak trees usually shed their leaves on a regular basis and then grow them back when the new growing season comes.  The shedding of leaves can symbolize separation as well as the circle of life.  Life ebbs and flows, but is always present.  

In this way, oak trees can also symbolize new opportunities.  The leaves do eventually grow back.  There is always hope for new things.  

In ancient Greek and Roman times, wearing oak leaves symbolized a status of honor.  In the U.S. Military, oak leaf clusters have appeared on awards as a symbol of merit and honor.

Official Tree of the United States  

Oaks have long been held in esteem.  They have been deemed the “monarch” or king of the forests.  For hundreds of years, oaks were deemed the national tree of England.  

Oaks have long been honored in the United States.  “Old Ironsides,” the USS Constitution, took its nickname from the strength of its live oak hull, famous for repelling British cannonballs.

Ultimately, rather recently (2004), the mighty oak became the official U.S. tree.  

Religious Symbolism 

Oaks had religious symbolism from ancient times, including as the sacred tree of Zeus and Jupiter, the kings of the Greek and Roman gods.

Druids, high ranked Celts, had a special place in their hearts for oaks. The word “Druid” itself is believed to mean “knowledge of the oaks.”  Ancient Greek and Roman writers noted that Druids met under oaks and believed oak trees have sacred significance.   

Oaks were sacred to the Norse thunder god (Thor) and Wiccan (nature religions) traditions. Oaks also repeatedly show up in the Jewish Bible and some Eastern Christian traditions.

The beloved (by me too) children’s book, Bridge to Terabithia, is a reference to the “terebinth tree” in the Jewish Bible.  “Terebinth” is usually translated as “oak tree.”  

What Do Acorns Symbolize?  

Acorns, the fruit (nut) of the oak tree, symbolizes luck and abundance.  The saying “great oaks from little acorns grow” symbolizes the potential of even little things.   

Acorns were also symbols of witches, Celtic witches using them for potions and rituals.  They can symbolize good luck, protection from harm, and an anti-aging device.  

Acorns are also food for animals (Scrat loves them) and humans.  An acorn is a symbol of squirrels and urban wildlife.  They can also be symbols of good health and contentment.  


A couple of years ago, a 240-year-old oak tree at George Washington’s home (Mount Vernon) fell down.  Its passing was given basically a fallen soldier’s send-off.  The coverage was poignant:

The rest of it lay where it had fallen along a nearby roadway — its roots gnarled, its bark still bearing the unit insignia carved by Union soldiers, most likely in 1865.

A mighty oak is still mortal.  And, as the article shows, full of symbolism.

Curious about the symbolism of other trees? Find out here.

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