Perhaps our most familiar hard-mast species, oaks serve as an important food source for wildlife. Producing massive quantities of nutrient-rich nuts on alternating years, oaks shape the ecosystems around them. Years when acorns are abundant, wildlife experience greater success in winter survival and spring reproduction. When there is an abundance of food at the base of an ecosystem, the ripples can be felt throughout.
In addition to its key role in natural ecosystems, oaks have high importance in human communities as well. The dense, strong wood from oak trees is highly desirable as a building material and firewood. Historically the lumber was used for constructing large, wooden ships which were more resistant to hull punctures than ships conducted from other materials. Oak wood is also an excellent source of firewood as it is slow and hot burning.
Acorns can also be used in dishes with some preparation. Acorns from oaks in the white oak family are particularly desirable for this purpose as they have fewer tannins than acorns from the red oak family. After parboiling and roasting, the nut meat from acorns has a flavor that is comparable to that of hazel nuts. They make a great addition to stuffings, soups and can even be ground and dried to create a flour to make cakes and pastries.