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Visingsö Oak Forest: a forest of immensely tall and unusually straight trees planted nearly 200 years ago to build naval ships that never existed

3 min read

Oak has traditionally been used in shipbuilding since centuries, as its wood is incredibly strong, and if tended just right, the grain is straight and true.
Going back even to the Vikings, the slow-growth trees have been used in Sweden for vessels of all kinds, including naval ships.

On the lake island of Visingsö, a narrow island in the middle of Vättern, Sweden’s second largest lake, there are hundreds of acres of tall and orderly oaks, all planted with an eye to the long term.
As far back as the Middle Ages, it was prescribed by law that the Swedish Crown had the sole right to make use of the country’s oak trees.
It was around 1830, soon after the end of the devastating Napoleonic Wars and after the oak forests in Swedish Pomerania were inundated following the wars, that the Crown sent out a delegation to search for ideal spots to ensure access to good timber for future ship production.
Three of those emissaries came to a small croft on Visingsö, where they spied three magnificent oaks just outside of an old woman’s farmhouse.
They took one with them back to Stockholm, and it didn’t take much to convince the Royal Navy that Visingsö had nearly perfect conditions for their precious lumber production.
And thus, over the next ten years, 300 000 oak trees were planted, many of which remain today, occupying an area of about 900 acres (360 hectares).
The reason?
Knowing how slowly the trees grow, the Navy was thinking awfully far ahead to supply itself with lumber to keep afloat well into the 20th century. And, by the time the trees were ready almost 150 years later, they showed no interest in using them, having long converted to ship hulls crafted from iron and steel.

Back in the 19th century, to make the oak suitable for ship production, other species such as ash, elm, maple, beech and silver fir were planted between the rows, to force growth up rather than spreading out.
And today the forest, administered by Sweden’s National Property Board, has immensely tall and unusually straight trees.
However, even if they’ll never see the ocean from the bottom of a boat, the wait hasn’t been in vain, as technological development has long made them ideal as oak veneers for floors, furnishing details for boats, veneers, and many applications requiring the hard and compact oak material, including whisky barrels!

Images from web – Google Research

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