The bur oak is so named because the cup of its acorn bears a slight resemblance to the spiny bur of a chestnut. Bur oaks are native to North America and can thrive in a host of environmental conditions. Because of its extensive root system, the bur oak can adapt to adverse soil conditions, and thus it has become the dominant oak species of the prairie. Because of its thick bark, it is the most fire-resistant of all oak species. It extends farther north (Canada) than does any other oak species due to its ability to tolerate cold weather. Historically, many Europeans preferred to settle in bur oak savannas because the wood from bur oaks could be used for constructing homes and for providing fuel. Moreover, the wood could be used to feed livestock. Unfortunately, widepsread agricultural and urban development throughout the 20th century resulted in a huge loss of bur oaks in the Northern Hemisphere. In the early 1900s, there were an estimated 32 million acres of oak savannas, whereas by 1985, just 6,400 acres of oak savanna remained.
Because of their durability, bur oaks are used to build various objects such as cabinets, barrels, fence posts, and hardwood floors. The tree is commonly planted for shade at local parks, and it can also be planted for ornament and shelter belts. An interesting fact is that Native Americans used bur oak for medicinal purposes, particularly when caring for those afflicted by heart ailments, broken bones, diarrhea, and even bleeding wounds. Bur oaks are not just important for humans, however. The acorns they bear are a vital food source for many different animals, including the wood duck, raccoon, pileated woodpecker, and greater prairie chicken, among many others. Not only that, they harbor animals such as treehoppers, plant bugs, and leaf beetles, all of which feed on the tree.