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OAKtober Spoon River Drive

Blog post by Rhonda Ferree

Every year I do a Spoon River Drive article highlighting natural items for you to look for while on the drive. In honor of OAKtober, this year’s spotlight is oaks.

According to the Morton Arboretum, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed a proclamation designating October 2015, “Oak Awareness Month.” With support from 42 partners across Illinois, including forest preserve districts, commercial associations, conservation groups, state forests, and municipalities, the proclamation was sent to Gov. Rauner in late June with hopes that state-level support would bolster efforts to conserve, protect, and restore threatened oak ecosystems.

burr oak

Morton Arboretum news says oak ecosystems have been a significant part of the Illinois landscape for more than 5,000 years and are now in a state of threat and decline across the entire State of Illinois.

mature oak

Oaks represent strength and stature. In fact, the white oak is the Illinois State Tree. Majestic oaks create a sense of awe and wonder. These trees work for us by cleaning our air and water, reducing ambient air temperature and usage of energy. They reduce flooding and support our native wildlife. Our oaks, and trees in general, improve our well-being and support a sense of community.

black oak in fall

You will see many oaks along the Spoon River Drive route. There are 20 oak species native to Illinois. White oak, bur oak, shingle oak, red oak, swamp white oak, pin oak, black oak, and more are commonly found in Central Illinois.

Most oaks turn a red, red-brown, or yellow-brown color in the fall. White oaks and pin oaks usually turn bright red, while red oak leaves change to yellow-brown and shingle oak to a dull brown.


You’ve probably noticed that some oak trees tend to hold their leaves all winter long. They rattle and shake with January winds, holding strong to summer’s leaves. Marcescence, the term used to describe leaf retention, is most common with many of the oak species, American beech, witch hazel, hornbeam, and ironwood. Although it is not clear why this happens, some speculate that holding leaves through winter helps trees living in dry, cold,deer-infested environments.

Pin oak leaf

Oaks are very useful trees. In addition to being a prized timber trees, more than 100 species of animals are known to consume their acorns, including mammals such as white-tailed deer, squirrels, mice, voles, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, and foxes. Birds that feed on acorns include wild turkey, bobwhite quail, wood ducks, mallards, woodpeckers, crows, and jays.

Enjoy the beautiful oaks around you on this year’s Spoon River Drive!

About Rhonda Ferree

Rhonda Ferree is Extension Educator in Horticulture for the Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Extension Unit. She has been with University of Illinois Extension for over 20 years where she has held several positions and received many awards. Ferree has a master’s degree and a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from the University of Illinois.