The Burlington County Parks System hosted its All About Oaks nature program earlier this month, when residents identified a variety of oak species along the trails of Willingboro Lakes Park.
Naturalist Gina DiMaio explained that the idea came after a nature walk participant requested a program that focused on oaks, an idea that DiMaio liked.
“We typically do tree ID and talk about trees in general, but there is just such a wealth of biodiversity of oaks in North America, and especially in New Jersey,” she noted.
Oaks found at the park included the following: Dwarf Chinkapin Oak (Quercus prinoides); Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor); Post Oak (Quercus stellata); White Oak (Quercus Alba); and Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinus) and red oaks: Black Oak (Quercus velutina); Willow Oak (Quercus phellos); Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica); and Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata); among others.
According to ScienceDirect’s website, oaks belong to the tree family Fagaceae and to one of the most important genera worldwide, Quercus. That genus is found in almost all the temperate forests of the Northern hemisphere, as well as in some tropical and subtropical regions of the same.
DiMaio leads other nature programs with the parks system and works hard to communicate the correct science to participants.
“I do spend a few hours of priority for each program planning,” she explained, “and that’s not only just researching and looking at field guides, or maybe looking at scientific literature online, but I also will go out to whatever park I’m going to be at the week before, the day before, and maybe plan my route. Stop, look and see what’s going on … Is something fruiting? Is something flowering? …
“I plan both by having my head in a book and by walking around within the park.”
According to DiMaio there are more than 400 species of oaks globally, and nearly 100 species throughout North America. Oaks are a keystone species, meaning that they play an important role in the environment.
“A lot of things rely on them, they tie everything else together,” DiMaio noted. “If you were to remove oaks from habitat it would set off a chain of events that would transform things, and the habitat ecosystem wouldn’t function properly without oaks, at least not in our area.”
People visit the county’s parks for different reasons, whether it’s to clear their mind, take their dog for a walk or engage in recreation, but DiMaio believes that participating in a program like this will give them a new outlook on species that call the parks home.
“When you start to recognize and know what species are, it really changes your perspective of things because after a while you start to recognize them and they become familiar to you and it becomes exciting,” she observed. “When you go to a different location, maybe you see those same species or maybe you see something you haven’t seen before.
“You really draw a deeper connection,” DiMaio added, “and then you notice patterns that, ‘Okay, why do these trees grow over here in one certain area, but I’m not finding them in a different part of the park?’
“It makes the park come alive, and I think it’s more fulfilling, honestly.”
The next All About Oaks program will be held at Smith’s Woods on Thursday, Oct. 19, at noon. Registration is required at www.bit.ly/burlco-register.