Oak trees are hardwood trees that are members of the genus Quercus. They come in various shapes and sizes and are native to the northern hemisphere. Additionally, they are often characterized by alternate, simple, deciduous or evergreen leaves with lobed, toothed, or entire margins.
These trees can be put into two categories – white oaks and red oaks. Based on their categories, they can be further divided into different types. In order to help you decide which oak tree to plant, we’ve listed down 13 different types of them, with pictures, maintenance specifics, and other properties.
1. Quercus Alba (White Oak)
Quercus alba, generally known as white oak, is a large-sized deciduous tree that grows slowly. They have 2-4 inch wide leaves with deep, rounded, and even lobes per leaf. Moreover, the tree gets its majestic look due to the brightly colored green leaves, with a subtle white undertone. Not to mention, this tree looks equally beautiful in the fall when its’ leaves turn purplish-brown to reddish-brown.
White oak trees usually grow in dry upland slopes as well as lowland valleys and ravines. While the tree can adjust itself to a wide variety of soil conditions, it will thrive if certain requirements are met. These requirements are:
- Rich, acidic, and well-drained soil
- More than six hours of direct sunlight
- Transplantation should occur when the tree is young
- A large area of land
However, the tree has some poisonous properties for humans, which can lead to symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, and jaundice.
Tip: It is best to avoid consuming the leaves and seeds of the tree to prevent any reaction.
2. Quercus Rubra (Red Oak)
The red oak tree is an American classic which is popular for its vibrant summer shade and steady fall color for years. Treasured for its deep rooting system, it is perfect for planting near urban streets and sidewalks.
Additionally, its fast-growing characteristic and open canopy make it different compared to other oak trees. The urban trees can grow up to a height of 70-80 feet, while rural trees might turn out even taller based on growing conditions.
Other than their large size, the trees have large acorns and green leaves growing on them during the summer. These acorns make a great source of food for squirrels and other animals, therefore, helping wildlife thrive. Also, the bark of a young tree has a smooth texture, which develops ridges as the tree ages.
As for their maintenance, they are hardy trees that can tolerate almost all soil types with good drainage properties. However, moist and acidic to neutral soil is best for these trees to thrive.
The only concerning factor about growing this tree is its susceptibility to oak wilt. If you notice the leaves of your tree dying and dropping, it may have oak wilt. In such a condition, usually, the only remedy is to remove the tree to prevent the disease from spreading to other red oaks.
3. Quercus Virginiana (Live Oak)
White oak is an evergreen tree that is spotted in many states in the US like Virginia, Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana. Although this tree is not as large as the other oak tree species, it has a widespread canopy which makes it a great option for planting. Adding on, it can grow up to a height of 60 feet, but its canopy can spread to a 120 feet wide area.
One of the most important requirements of this tree is large space. While it is adaptable to almost any type of soil, a few other requirements to keep in mind are:
- Minimum four hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight
- Normal soil moisture
- Regular irrigation and pruning
Even though this tree is hardy, it is susceptible to several pests and diseases. Moreover, freezing temperatures and acid rain also cause substantial harm to the tree.
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4. Quercus Velutina (Black Oak)
The black oak tree is native to the eastern and midwestern United States. It is also called yellow oak, smoothbark oak, or quercitron. Depending on its location, the tree can grow up to an average height of 20-25 meters, with a trunk diameter of approximately 35 inches, in the northern parts. Whereas, in the southern parts, it can grow up to be taller, sometimes exceeding 42 meters in height.
The most common areas these trees are found in are exposed slopes and ridges, due to their intolerance for shade. Additionally, the tree has ridged and blackish outer bark, while the inner bark is a striking yellow-orange color. The inner bark is sometimes used for natural pigment dying due to its yellow dye.
Its leaves have lustrous and dark green color on top, while the bottom surface is paler and coppery. Moreover, its sharply pointed leaf buds are covered in down.
While black oak is not used for ornamental purposes often, it makes a great wood choice for furniture, flooring, pallets, etc.
5. Quercus Bicolor (Swamp White Oak)
As opposed to the other oak species which grow on dry land, the swamp white oak grows in moist sites like swamps and river edges, as the name suggests. However, it does not stop the tree from adapting well to urban and suburban settings too. With an average potential height of 50-70 feet and an open, round canopy, this tree makes an excellent choice for providing shade.
Furthermore, it grows at an average speed and can live up to 300 years. Additionally, the leaves of this tree are round and have shallow lobes. However, the most striking part about the leaves is the color contrast between the upper and lower surface. While the upper surface is a bright green color, the lower part is grey to shiny white in color.
Like most other white oaks, this tree is heavy, hard, and durable. The smaller branches have smooth textured wood, while the larger branches and trunk have flat ridges and deep fissures. Adaptable to various types of soils, the only major requirements for this tree are regular watering and plenty of sunlight.
6. Quercus Laurifolia (Laurel Oak)
Laurel oak tree is a rapidly growing, semi-evergreen to deciduous tree found on sandy soils like the edge of rivers and swamps. It bears yellowish-green flowers in spring as the leaves emerge, wherein, the male and female clusters of flowers grow separately.
Its fruits are rounded acorns with shallow cups. The acorns are an important source of food for wildlife, therefore, making a laurel oak tree important to them.
A few requirements for this tree to grow are plenty of room, full sun, partial shade, and soil that is moist and well-drained. Laurel oak is considered a low-maintenance tree, however, you can face a few problems when taking care of it. One of the main problems is its susceptibility to oak wilt, chestnut blight, oak leaf blister, and powdery mildew. However, if maintained properly, this tree is pest and disease-resistant.
7. Quercus Imbricaria (Shingle Oak)
Treasured for its durability and shiny, green, unlobed leaves, shingle oak is a deciduous tree capable of growing up to a height of 49-65 feet. It typically grows in a conical form with the crown broadening and rounding with age.
Speaking of color, the trunk branch of these trees is grey to brown, rough-textured, and narrowly furrowed with scaly ridges. While the bark branch is grey and smooth, with brown and glabrous twigs.
This tree is in bloom from April to May and has male and female flowers growing on the same tree, in separate clusters. The flower blossoms are a greenish-yellow color, with the leaves and flowers sprouting together. Also, the acorns are brown, almost round, and stalked.
It is good for planting in gardens, along streets, and in parks. Above all, this deep rooting plant requires permeable soil which is neutral to acidic. It even requires a lot of sunlight and partial shade. While this tree is pest resistant, it can still be susceptible to oak wilt, just as all other oak trees are.
8. Quercus Montana (Chestnut Oak)
The chestnut oak is a deciduous tree native to the eastern and central USA. Reaching up to a height of 50-60 feet, it has an equal spread when grown in the open. Additionally, it is even capable of reaching 100 feet, when grown in the woods.
The tree has a dense growth of branches, while the leaves are as long as 8 inches, and as wide as 4 inches. They have wavy edges with rounded teeth on both sides. Also, these leaves turn yellow-brown and sometimes, red-brown in fall before dropping. While the bark of the tree has deep, dark furrows and is a dark shade of grey.
It bears 1.5 inch long acorns which fall in October. These acorns are sweet tasting and relished by a variety of wildlife.
The tree grows best in damp, well-drained soil with access to full sunlight. One great characteristic of this tree is its drought tolerance and its ability to spread out wide. By spreading out, it makes an excellent choice for providing shade to larger areas.
Ultimately, it is a low maintenance tree, has a long life span, and looks beautiful wherever planted.
9. Quercus Coccinea (Scarlet Oak)
The scarlet oak belongs to the red oak group. Best known for its autumn foliage, this tree is widely planted for its ornamental beauty. Adding on, it has brilliant red autumn color leaves even when most trees have lost their leaves.
The leaves of this tree are simple and oval-shaped with deep lobes. Another benefit is the acorns it provides. They are a great source of food for squirrels, mice, deer, wild turkeys, and other birds.
The scarlet oak’s foliage is similar to pin oak’s, but the tree is less tolerant of different environments. This becomes the reason why the scarlet oak tree is not very common in landscaping.
10. Quercus Gambelli (Gambel Oak)
The Gambel oak tree is commonly found through western Colorado and can vary drastically in size depending on its location. It usually reaches up to a height of 30 feet, and on rare occasions, may even reach up to 50 feet. Additionally, the tree has deeply-lobed, deciduous, bright green leaves, with a pale undertone at the lower surface.
Gambel oak provides a protective cover for many birds and small mammals, hence contributing to maintaining rich biodiversity. Also, the larger trees will produce a bigger crop of acorns, which are a good source of food for animals. This tree has even been a common source of fence posts and fuels.
This can be considered an important plant for watershed protection. Lastly, it can grow on all types of soils, thus making it an easy tree to grow.
11. Quercus Nigra (Water Oak)
Water oak is a conical, round-topped tree that is deciduous to semi-evergreen in nature. It has a spreading, rounded, open canopy making it a popular tree for landscaping. Remember, these trees grow fast, at a rate of almost 24 inches per year. However, as compared to all other oak trees, water oak has a short life span of about 30 to 50 years.
This tree prefers rich, medium to wet acidic soils in full sun. But keep in mind, it is adaptable to other soil types and part shade. There are a few tips to apply when taking care of white oak:
- Must be trained young to prevent crotch from splitting due to poor collar formation
- Require plenty of water
- Take special care since old trees are susceptible to rot
- Minimum requirement of four hours of direct sunlight
Water oak acorns are a top food preference for many animals like white-tailed deer, squirrels, raccoons, and mallards, making it an important tree for biodiversity.
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12. Quercus Macrocarpa (Bur Oak)
The bur oak, also called mossy-cup oak, is a popular ornamental and shade tree in urban areas. They are large to medium-sized and are deciduous in nature. Speaking of height and flowers, they can grow up to be 60-150 feet tall and produce yellow catkin flowers. The leaves are up to 9 inches long and have rounded lobes.
This tree is most often propagated from seed without any pre-treatment. Acorns can be collected from the trees and planted after their color has changed to brown. Also, the tree needs 6 hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight.
A few features of this tree are:
- Can tolerate pollution and heat stress
- Lives for more than 200-300 years
- Difficult to transplant
- Sensitive to root zone disturbance caused by construction
Lastly, this tree grows slowly but does not require a lot of maintenance.
13. Quercus Palustris (Spanish Oak)
Spanish oak is a deciduous oak variety that also goes by the name southern red oak. Irrespective of its name this tree does not have a lot of red undertones.
It is usually found on upland mesic soils, but also occasionally along streams. However, during the fall, instead of turning a pleasing shade of red, the leaves simply turn brown. While this fall color is not often sought after, there is plenty of aesthetic value in this tree.
The shape of the leaf includes a rounded base and three trident-like lobes at the outer end of the leaf. The middle lobe is often the longest but the leaf shape overall shows variation.
This tree needs full sun and acidic soil. While well-drained soil is best, this tree can survive some temporary flooding. However, the root system is known to be quite sensitive to damage. Thus, keep in mind, planting near any construction area is a significant risk.
Since most oak trees can adapt well to any type of soil, they make a great option to plant along trees and sidewalks. All in all, not only does the huge canopy give shade, but also improves the aesthetics of a place.
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