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4. Sawtooth Oak

Quercus accutissima: Sawtooth Oak

Cultural Significance

Sawtooth Oak is culturally important to many Asian societies in the past and present. Sawtooth leaves were fed to silkworms and silk was one of Asia’s most important historical exports. A lust for silk is partly responsible for early east/west relations. Acorns were ground and used as a remedy for hemorrhaging, diarrhea and menstrual complications. Much like the dye extracted from the Amur Cork Tree, Sawtooth Oak was also processed to make dye that was important for recording ancient Chinese history. A brown or black dye was extracted from this specific tree.

While Quercus acutissima has pleasant leaves and produces large crops of acorns, due to its ability to spread beyond intended plantings and outcompete native species, and the lack of a sterile cultivar, Sawtooth Oak should no longer be planted as an ornamental.

Native Ecosystems

The native landscapes of Sawtooth Oak are areas in China, Japan and Korea. Sawtooth Oaks prefer well drained soils, whether they are sandy loam or clay loam soils. Sawtooth Oak prefers acidic soils but can adapt to most well-drained soils except the very alkaline. Sawtooth Oak is sensitive to moisture and does not do well in areas that receive more than 30 inches of precipitation a year. Conversely, it is highly drought tolerant and can withstand very low temperatures. The Sawtooth Oak was introduced to the United States in 1862, most likely to private gardens as an ornamental. Once it was noticed that the acorns attracted wildlife, Sawtooth Oak became ubiquitous with hunting small American game, such as turkeys. The acorn dispersal by animals also allowed this Asian oak to invade forests. It does especially well in areas that have been cleared by humans.

Beneficial Uses

The wood of the Sawtooth Oak is similar to other oaks as it is considered an extremely hardwood. While the wood itself is attractive, Sawtooth wood is more brittle and tends to crack under pressure. For this reason, Sawtooth Oak-wood is not preferred for construction or woodworking.

If properly prepared, the acorns are available for human consumption. If eaten outright, the acorns would taste extremely bitter. In times of famine, acorns proved essential for survival. The traditional method for acorn preparation included burying the nuts for the winter season, unearthing them in spring and repeatedly rinsing them. The leaves are also edible if processed.

Biological Characteristics

Sawtooth Oak, Quercus accutissima, is a tall, nut-producing deciduous tree of the Family Fagaceae. It is not native to the United States, but because of its high yield of acorns and its aesthetic qualities, Sawtooth Oak is a popularly planted tree. Quercus accutisima can grow to height of 45 feet and spread to 50 feet. In Latin, “Quercus” means oak and “accutissima” is a reference to sharp edges, which give this tree its common name. The margins of the leaves of this oak are highly serrated. Because of its acorn production and its ability to escape plantations, Quercus accutissima has potential problems associated with it, including litter, wildlife attraction and invasiveness. Sawtooth Oak is a pleasant tree, but is no longer recommended for planting in the United States.

Sawtooth Oak, like most oaks, has a grey deeply furrowed outer bark. The bark is pleasant looking, but Sawtooth Oak tends to hold on to leaves throughout winter. This propensity to carry dead leaves throughout the winter gives off a craggy appearance which turns some landscapers off to its appearance. The leaf of the Sawtooth Oak is the main distinguishing characteristic between native oaks and this Asian species. While domestic oaks have highly lobed leaved, the Sawtooth Oak has un-lobed leaves with a highly serrated margin. The technical term for the serrated margin is pectinate. Leaves are also glabrous, giving off a lacquered appearance. The leaves are a strong green during spring and summer and turn yellow in the fall. By winter, the leaves are a tan-brown. Leaves are simple and arranged alternately, and may be up to 8 inches long.

Sawtooth Oak is a monoecious species, producing both male and female gametes on the same tree. Sawtooth Oak produces small, brown flowers that are fairly inconspicuous. While the flower itself is fairly dull, the acorn (fruit) that arises from pollination is one of the more stylish acorns in the forest. Sawtooth acorns are distinguished by their showy caps. While familiar acorns tend to have simple caps, Sawtooth acorns have a complex cap that bears a resemblance to the intricate designs atop the Corinthian-style column. Sawtooth Oaks can produce acorns as earlier as their fifth year, but usually start bearing fruit at about the tenth year. The oak produces copious amounts of these acorns, which attract a variety of animals, including squirrels, chipmunks, turkeys as well as other birds and mammals. While domestic acorns may be favorably grazed over the Asian variety, the fact that Sawtooth Oak produces a higher volume of fruit, means wildlife will certainly gravitate toward areas dense with Sawtooth Oaks.