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Quercus rubra (Red Oak) Fagaceae


    One of the most dominant of the northern oak species, the red oak, lives throughout eastern North America.  It is the state tree of New Jersey and the arboreal emblem of Canada’s Prince Edward Island.  It is very tough and planted throughout cities and along streets.  Its natural habitat includes moist woods, valleys, and slopes.  

    Physical characteristics

    Photo by Julia Giza

    Leaf: The leaves are smooth and lustrous.  Leaves are deciduous, alternate, elliptic, and 10–25 cm long and 8–15 cm wide.  They have a few irregular bristle-tipped teeth, and the sinuses usually extending less than 1/2 distance to midrib.  The colors range from light to dark green in the summer, to orange/red in the fall. 

    Flower | Seeds: Male and female flowers are borne in separate catkins on the same tree.  Acorns fall and mature within two years.

    Trunk | Bark: Dark reddish grey brown, with broad, thin, rounded ridges, scaly. On young trees and large stems, smooth and light gray. Rich in tannic acid. Branchlets slender, at first bright green, shining, then dark red, finally dark brown. Bark is brownish gray, becoming dark brown on old trees. 

    Life span: Red oaks can leave up to 500 years, but usually live to about 300 years.

    Ecological characteristics

    The red oak grows in rich and well-drained soil.  The wood is very porous and resistant to decay.  The tree produces acorns in which many types of wildlife eat.

    Distribution range 

    Importance to the ecosystem

    The red oak is a producer.  It uses photosynthesis to produce energy for itself and also converts carbon dioxide to oxygen.  The tree provides many types of birds nesting opportunities and homes.  The tree produces acorns in which many kinds of wildlife consume.

    Relationship with other species

    Non-human: It is a provider of food for all kinds of animals.  It also serves as shelter for many birds and mammals.

    Humans: Red oak wood is one of the main woods used for timber in the eastern United States.  Because of its ability to tolerate many conditions, it is planted in many cities and urban areas.  It is often planted for landscaping.

    Pests: Two diseases that affect the red oak tree are oak wilt and oak decline. Oak wilt is caused by a fungus and in the eastern U.S. it kills thousands of red oak trees whether they be in forests or cities. The oak wilt fungus can be carried from tree to tree by insects or connect through root systems.  Oak decline is a much slower tree disease that can take up to five years to kill a tree. It is not just one disease but really a combination of several different stresses on a tree such as drought, fungi, boring insects or late frosts in the spring.  The biggest pest for a red oak tree is the red oak borer, but it does not kill the tree. It is the borer’s larvae that first damages the tree by burrowing into crevices in the bark.

    Other interesting facts

    • Red oaks can thrive in about any kind of soil.

    • In the fall, red oak leaves turn to beautiful colors of red and orange.

    • The red oak wood has very large pores.


    Photo by Julia Giza

    Page drafted by Charlie Marshall

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  • Fun Facts: Acorns provide a food source for numerous birds and animals: Ruffed grouse, nuthatch, blue jay, wild turkey, red, gray and fox squirrels, bears, deer, and raccoons.

  • Question: How many root beer barrels could you make from a red oak tree?
    Answer: None - red oak has big pores, so all the root beer would leak out.