In the 1830s the Swedish Navy planted 300 000 oak trees to be used for ship production in the far future. When they received word that the trees were fully grown in 1975 they had little use of them as modern warships are built with metal.

A forest of immensely tall and unusually straight oak trees planted nearly 200 years ago to build naval ships that never came to be.

There is good reason that oak has traditionally been used in shipbuilding. The wood is incredibly strong, and if tended just right, the grain is straight and true. Going back 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 there are hundreds of acres of tall and orderly oaks, all planted with an eye to the long game.

It was around 1830, soon after the end of the devastating Napoleonic Wars, and the Swedish Crown sent out a delegation to search for ideal spots to plant for future ship production. Three of those emissaries came to a small croft on Visingsö, a narrow island in the middle of Vättern (Sweden’s second largest lake). Here they spied … Continue Reading (2 minute read)

13 thoughts on “In the 1830s the Swedish Navy planted 300 000 oak trees to be used for ship production in the far future. When they received word that the trees were fully grown in 1975 they had little use of them as modern warships are built with metal.”

  1. Senepicmar

    So they burnt them down and planted iron

  2. Raving_Lunatic69

    The US Navy still maintains white oak forests as well

  3. W_I_Water

    Maybe they can trade two Wood for one Iron.

  4. thx1138a

    I love the idea that they “received word”.

    Messenger: “You might want to sit down for this, but…”

  5. Bellerophonix

    By then they had IKEA, so it worked out.

  6. ondulation

    In 1975 the chief of the department responsible for managing the forest sent a message to the commander of the marine: “Your oaks are now ready for delivery!”

  7. Zahn_1103196416

    1830s huh? That’s \*just\* before metal ships did take off. It’s entertaining in hindsight, but at the time they were looking on the past 2000+ years of naval warfare with wooden vessels and had no reason to assume things would be otherwise when planning for the future.

  8. moonbeanie

    I think it was Oxford University that planted a grove of oaks hundreds of years in advance so that when the beams finally rotted in one of their great halls they had replacement trees.

    There’s actually quite a lot of reproduction wooden shipbuilding and restoration that goes on around the world, I’m sure these trees are useful. It would probably make sense to fell a few so that the wood can start to age.

    WoodenBoat magazine writes about this sort of thing all the time.

  9. HiHowYaDerin000000

    So it takes oak trees 130 years to mature?

  10. frevensakes

    A nice forest is never wasted.

  11. fiendishrabbit

    These weren’t just “oaks”. They were planted between larch and spruce so that they would grow tall and straight, which means the navy oak forests are rather unusual.

    It provided a boon of a different kind to Sweden. Once the navy had announced its non-interest in harvesting the forest Statens fastighetsverk (Swedish real estate management bureau, that manages most state property) were free to use it as they wished. It now serves the multipurpose of preserving swedens oak population, providing data about long-term forest plantations (the bureau of forestry have been conducting regular measurements since the forests were first planted) and to provide lumber. Primarily to provide straight and long oak timbers for “worthy” conservation purposes\* (several old church restoration projects have used navy oaks as it would otherwise have proved impossible to find long straight oak timber, timber that’s typically used to support the roof) but also sold on the open market if there is a surplus. Oaks are naturally felled as a part of the land management process as the method of planting meant that as the oaks are not as long-lived as if they had been allowed to grow short and gnarly (there will be no 500-year-old oaks in any of these forests). If an oak crown becomes sparse enough that there is risk of the oak dying the following year (because it can’t pull enough water) it’s usually felled.

    \*AFAIK the Swedish government has said that they’re open to selling a number of these oaks for the purpose of restoring Notre Dame if asked by the french government.

  12. rasterbated

    They’re gonna be super ready for the Viking post apocalypse tho

  13. Dead_Is_Better

    Swedish Navy: ‘Welp, anybody wanna buy a forest?’

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