Sampling oak leaves


While I was in the Western suburbs recently, I went for a wander and saw what I thought at first glance were olive trees.  Shame on me for not looking more closely: these were oak trees, as evidenced by the acorns.


On the other hand, looking at those leaves, this is not a variety of oak I’m accustomed to.  The most common oak in my neighbourhood is the English oak (Quercus Robur), which has quite a distinctive leaf shape: nothing like this one.  The next most common is the cork oak (Quercus Suber): there are a couple in a nearby park which are a constant source of wonder to me. Perhaps I am just not paying attention.  I found this site listing quite a few oaks on a site from my own city–so many different oaks must be grown here.  While I was in Melbourne there was a leaf I could only have said was not native on the table during the Second Skin workshop.  India Flint pronounced it an oak, and that evening I saw loads of them planted down the side of a street.  With acorns–which are evidently the only mental clue I have for identifying unfamiliar oaks.  So I recently understood there must be members in the oak family I hadn’t met.  To look at this tutorial on identifying oak leaves in North America, the leaf I saw in Melbourne was a red oak and the ones I know better are white oaks.


Just to add to the mystery, where the trees had re-sprouted after being cut back, there were juvenile leaves that were positively prickly along the leaf margins.  Well–I decided to gather a few leaves and acorns and try them out.  The result was not really exciting… but then I have never seen so many acorns in one place and there are dyeing applications for acorns I’ve never tried. So perhaps the future still holds possibilities!



Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

15 responses to “Sampling oak leaves

  1. I think it is definitely worth trying out different oaks and acorns because they can give quite different results, though I guess they will all be in the brown range. I have had some acorns give a pleasant light brown, but the oak tree across the road from my house gave the most incredible dark greeny-brown (khaki?) colour on my test yarn. However, this was after it had fermented for 3-4 months as I forgot about that jar. I have had a number of happy surprises from solar dyeing jars left to stew and ferment over long periods of time. In any case I am waiting for that particular oak to produce acorns again to see if I can repeat my experiment.


  2. Pia

    Very strange oak.


    • I thought so… wandering the web made me wonder if it is a live oak. But the depths of my ignorance are such that I had previously wondered if references to live oaks in novels set in the US in the future were references to a real tree or a fictitious one with a lovely whimsical name 🙂


      • looks like either cork or lilex (holme) oak. we have a spinney of huge holme oak in my village and they are very common along the coast here – less frost so they can cope. I get nice purpley greys, pinks and greens with iron from the leaves – in the winter they lose a lot of leaves and even small branches in strong winds. they would also make a tannin mordant, I presume.


      • I clearly need to try it out. It’s certainly not cork oak, one of the two I can recognise. And it sounds like more is possible in the way of dyeing. Next time I’ll collect 🙂


  3. claire

    We spotted a tree like this just the other day. The boy first took it for a feijoa until we spotted the acorns. So many curious things in the world.


    • I can see why you’d think feijoa, but just like the boy, once I stepped up and saw the acorns I had an eyes-popping moment. I agree. so many curious things. Lovely to hear from you 🙂


  4. of course if it was cork oak you would know by the bark … where I have a house in spain in Extremadura they have both. holme oak is the old name for holly oak – because of the prickly leaves .. in spain they call it encina, or sweet oak. the acorns are huge, torpedo shaped, and sweet, okay for horses and dogs (my dogs stuff themselves with them) as well as pigs and cattle. an important part of pasture there – a real fattening food in the autumn. it’s a lovely part of Spain -all trees – olive groves, fig orchards, and wood pasture, then hectares and hectares of dehesa, which is oaks and grass for grazing, like ranching – sheep, cattle, iberian pigs – they have dainty little trotters and black skin and silky hair, they make the traditional hams … all the trees are pruned heavily, so that the oaks have wide canopies, it makes them produce more acorns, plus lots of shade. it looks natural at first glance, but it isn’t. I am looking forward to trying out the catkins for dyeing – they stain everybody’s concrete, patios, and swimming pools, as do the leaves. and fermenting, yes, that sounds very interesting … one to do in the autumn


    • Seems like to collective wisdom among the commenters is that it’s Quercus Ilex (Holly Oak). Thanks so much! Goodness, Extremadura sounds glorious! I will watch for catkins and see if I get lucky.


  5. Should you need white or red oak leaves or acorns, let me know. In the fall I drown in them. I could probably send you a ship full! Some years the acorns are so thick they make a mulch layer in the yard. And then some years, like last, there are almost none. But there’s never a lack of leaves!!
    : ) (and none of the trees are even on my little property)
    Live oaks are a real tree. A friend here says it’s the one part of climate shift she’s happy about: a bit warmer here and she’ll be able to grow one.


  6. looks like Quercus ilex or close…in New Orleans water i’ve had lovely purples…


    • Thanks for the tips! Perhaps it’s a candidate for experiments with Ph then… It sure does look like online pictures of Quercus Ilex and its mediterranean origins would explain why it’s managing the conditions in Rosewater.


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