Last winter I found a cluster of oak galls on a tree in the Ashdown Forest as well as on the ground underneath. They were brown, hard and each had a small exit hole in them. I collected some of them and stored them at home in a sealed container.
I first thought they were oak apples but in fact they might be oak marble galls. There’s actually a whole speciality of studying galls called cecidology. Basically oak trees form these ‘apple-shaped’ growths when tiny little insects called gall wasps lay their eggs on them. I wasn’t sure about the difference between oak apples and oak marbles but found these descriptions:
“The Oak Apple Gall is caused by a tiny gall wasp, Biorhiza pallida. It can be found between May and June on oak twigs where the female has laid her eggs in the leaf bud. Inside the gall there are a number of chambers, each housing a larva which eats its way out. Adults emerge in June and July.” The Wildlife Trusts
“The Oak Marble Gall (also known as ‘Oak Nut’) is caused by a tiny gall wasp, Andricus kollari. Clusters of Oak Marble Galls can be found on oak twigs. They turn brown as they mature and emergence holes, from which the asexual adults have escaped, can be seen from autumn onwards. The empty gall is left on the twig.” The Wildlife Trusts
We cut a couple open to look at the spongy insides which reminded me of cork. There were no larvae or tiny insects inside by the way! After showing them to my children I wasn’t sure what to do with these ‘oak nuts’ until I read about them in An Illustrated Country Year. We could paint them and make necklaces.
What does a peacock and oak galls have in common? Well, following a visit to Groombridge Place and gazing at my peacock tray, my daughter Luce had an inspired idea. ‘Let’s paint them like colourful birds,’ she suggested.
First using the holes where the hatched insects had vacated the galls, I pierced right through the middle of each of the oak marbles with a thick needle. I then used a sharp tooth pick to ensure that the holes were large enough to string some leather lace through them.
The tooth picks were then used to hold the oak galls while we painted them with acrylic paints. We also stuck them in apple halves. Once they had dried I coated each oak marble gall with varnish.
Finally we thread the lace through the oak apples.
My daughter’s oak gall beads were in brilliant hues of red, yellow and turquoise. I created the peacock version. Now if only I could wear my necklace while driving this car that we noticed a peacock admiring!
If you want to find out more about An Illustrated Country Year you can read my book review here.