A Happy Oaktober at the International Oak Society Conference

Second year Longwood Fellow, Andrea Brennan, was excited to be able to take part in the recent International Oak Society (IOS) Conference in Lisle, IL.  The conference was hosted by the Morton Arboretum in late October – prime time of year to catch the trees resplendent in their fall color!  The oak is the state tree of Illinois. In honor of this, and of the value contributed by Morton Arboretum to the state, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner recently declared October to be State Oak Awareness Month, better known as “Oaktober”.


Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) leaves frame the view of a pond at the Morton Arboretum

In reference to the genus name of oaks, Quercus, oak fans proudly call themselves “quercophiles”. The IOS conference was quite inclusive and welcomed anyone with a love of oaks, from the hard-core scientist to the homeowner with the majestic trees planted in their yard. The wide diversity of attendees made for a fascinating variety of presentations, workshops, and tours in areas such as conservation, propagation, breeding, phylogeny (evolutionary history), collections management, and ethnobotany (study of the relationship between plants and people).

A line of trees, including a White Oak (Quercus alba), silhouetted against the setting sun at the arboretum

A line of trees, including a White Oak (Quercus alba), silhouetted against the setting sun at the arboretum

Andrea presented a poster on her thesis research of oak conservation through tissue culture. Tissue culture involves taking a piece of a plant, called a tissue, and placing it into a small container such as a test tube.  At the bottom of the container is a gel-like material that contains all the nutrients the tissue needs to survive and grow into a new plant.  Oaks tend to be difficult to grow via tissue culture, and so more research is needed to determine the best conditions for reproduction.

Oaks play a vital role in ecosystems across the globe, but the survival of many species is under threat. Tissue culture could be a valuable tool in saving these important trees.

Andrea’s remaining “oak army” growing in tissue culture

Some of Andrea’s “oak army” growing in tissue culture

Andrea had a number of oak tissues, called explants, still growing in tissue culture left from her recently concluded experiment, so she took the conference as an opportunity to give them to one of her committee members, Dr. Valerie Pence.  Dr. Pence is Director of Plant Research of the Center of Conservation Research of Endangered Wildlife at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, and will continue to study and grow the young oaks in her lab there.

Oaks standing tall at the arboretum’s Schulenberg Prairie

Oaks standing tall at the arboretum’s Schulenberg Prairie

The International Oak Society Conference was a wonderful experience with immense and enjoyable learning, engagement, and networking opportunities. This gathering of quercophiles gave attendees the chance to … branch out.