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Red Oak

Red Oak (Quercus rubra) is a major timber tree of the eastern and Midwestern United States. The tough, heavy wood of Red Oak has a reddish-orange coloration and is an important hardwood for the Ohio timber industry, involved in the production of beams, railroad ties, furniture, flooring, and other usages.

Along with Pin Oak, it is also one of the few Oaks that is an important shade tree in the landscape industry, noted for its brick-red autumn color and its rapid and vigorous growth rate. It is also known as Northern Red Oak (since there is also a Southern Red Oak of the southern United States) and may be found cited in older literature by its previous scientific name of Quercus borealis. Its large acorns mature earlier in the season than those of most other Oaks, thus providing a source of food by late summer and throughout autumn and winter for many forms of wildlife.

Reaching 60 feet tall by 70 feet wide when found in the open under urban landscape conditions, it may grow taller and more massive in the wild. As the flagship member of the Red Oak group and as a member of the Beech Family, it is related to the Beeches, Chestnuts, and other Oaks.

Planting Requirements

Red Oak prefers moist, deep, rich, well-drained soils of slightly acidic pH. It adapts readily to dry soils of acidic, neutral, or slightly alkaline pH (some specimens develop chlorosis in high pH soils). It thrives in full sun to partial sun (but is shade tolerant in youth) and is found in zones 3 to 7.

Potential Problems

Other than cosmetic blemishes on its dark green foliage due to minor insect feeding, Red Oak is basically problem-free, although it may on occasion be subject to the standard army of pests and pathogens that afflict the Oaks.

Identifying Features

Leaves of Red Oak are alternate, moderately shiny, broadly obovate, with seven to eleven lobes that have bristles terminating each tooth on the forward-pointing lobes. Sinuses vary greatly from tree to tree in their depth, with some shallow, others two-thirds of the way to the midrib. Petioles that are green in spring and early summer often turn to gold or crimson by late summer.

Red Oak often has impressive late fall color, ranging from brick red to scarlet, although some trees may have golden- yellow, yellow-brown, or chartreuse foliage in autumn.

Red Oak is monoecious, having pendulous pollen-bearing catkins in mid-spring that are the "showy" golden-brown flowers seen from a distance.

By being a member of the Red Oak group, the miniature female flowers on the same tree take two years to develop into mature acorns. As such, they are not obvious until the second year, when they fill out rapidly during the summer and ripen early as compared to other members of the Red Oak group, in late summer and early autumn, often with heavy fruit crops.

Twigs of all Oaks terminate in a cluster of buds, and those of Red Oak are of average size as compared to other Oaks, being light-colored on reddish-brown twigs.

The immature bark of Red Oak is light gray, very reflective in the winter sun, and surprisingly smooth.

As the bark matures, it develops shiny gray flattened ridges that have intervening darker fissures. Only on very aged specimens of Red Oak does the lowermost portion of the trunk have deep furrows and tall ridges with a dark gray to near-black color.


The Beech Family

American Beech

American Chestnut

Black Oak

Bur Oak

Chestnut Oak

Chinese Chestnut

Chinquapin Oak

English Oak

Pin Oak

Red Oak

Sawtooth Oak

Scarlet Oak

Shingle Oak

Shumard Oak

Swamp White Oak

White Oak