English oak (Quercus robur), Bowral, NSW

Nothing special today, just a small-leaved oak. An English oak*, Quercur robur, seen on the streets of Mittagong and Bowral where I’m spending most of December. It’s interesting, perhaps, because it has rather small leaves. They do get a little larger on older branches, but always smaller that I’m used to.

There are so many oak hybrids, particularly in Australia between the English oak and Algerian oak (Quercus canariensis) that almost any size (and shape) leaf is possible. This is one extreme. For the record.

English oak (Quercus robur), Bowral, NSW

This observation will be the first in a series to accompany the writing of a book on oaks. Something I’ve been threatening to do for the last few years. 

While my blog has been rather quiet of late, one thing I’ve been doing since leaving Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria in August is writing. For books mostly, with an occasional piece for Gardening Australia Magazine (including a short Q&A on their new website), a foreword for a book, a review or two, and contributions to scientific papers. 

The lack of blog posts is not because I don’t enjoy writing them, more because I do enjoy the writing. Too much. I can be too easily distracted by a plant in the street, a plant news story or a fascinating scientific article, and feel ‘obliged’ to post something here. 

Instead, I’m looking for a way to make my blogging a little more simpatico with the book writing. At the moment, my book priority is a collection of essays – a fifty-fifty mix of previously published pieces (with some updates) and new stories – to be published by CSIRO Publishing. The working – and I hope final – title is The Sceptical Botanist. After that, I’ve committed to write something a little more ambitious, on ‘the flower’, starting with the titan arum and finishing who knows where!

English oak (Quercus robur), Mittagong, NSW

Always, though, I keep writing about oaks. I won’t give away here my (idiosyncratic) approach to this book, except to say that I want to share the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the last four years.   

The botanical love affair began when a 150-year-old white oak (hybrid) split and fell in Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne’s Oak Lawn, two days after Christmas in 2019. It then flourished during the COVID pandemic, when I had a ‘holiday’ for a few years from travelling and public speaking.

These blog posts, if I keep them up, will be a mix of the mundane and profound, as I cobble together my book on the genus Quercus. Feel free to comment or add your own observations, here in the blog or below links in social media.

English oak (Quercus robur), Mittagong, NSW

*The astute among you will notice I’ve acquiesced to using lowercase for the first letter of each element of a common name, unless of course the word is a proper noun (such as ‘English’). Despite a fondness for making these names stand out, I can see how a text is softened by not capitalising. Also, I’m having to follow editorial guidelines by book publishers and others which demand lower case, so best I get used to it. 

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