Quercus rubra

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Quercus rubra
Quercus rubra @ Tortworth Court.jpg
Autumn northern red oak specimen

Secure (NatureServe)[1]
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Fagales
Family: Fagaceae
Genus: Quercus
Section: Lobatae
Species: Q. rubra
Binomial name
Quercus rubra
L. 1753
Quercus rubra range map 1.png
  • Erythrobalanus rubra (L.) O.Schwarz
  • Quercus ambigua F.Michx. 1812 not Bonpl. 1809
  • Quercus angulizana Raf.
  • Quercus borealis F.Michx.
  • Quercus cuneata Dippel 1892 not Wangenh. 1787
  • Quercus maxima (Marshall) Ashe
  • Quercus sada Mast.

Quercus rubra, commonly called northern red oak, or champion oak, (syn. Quercus borealis), is an oak in the red oak group (Quercus section Lobatae). It is a native of North America, in the eastern and central United States and southeast and south-central Canada. It grows from the north end of the Great Lakes, east to Nova Scotia, south as far as Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana, and west to Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Minnesota.[2] It has been introduced to small areas in Western Europe, where it can frequently be seen cultivated in gardens and parks. It prefers good soil that is slightly acidic. Often simply called red oak, northern red oak is so named to distinguish it from southern red oak (Q. falcata), also known as the Spanish oak. It is also the state tree of New Jersey and the provincial tree of Prince Edward Island.


Wood of the Red Oak. From Romeyn Beck Hough's fourteen-volume work The American Woods, a collection of over 1000 paper-thin wood samples representing more than 350 varieties of North American tree.
The Shera-Blair Red Oak.

In many forests, this deciduous tree grows straight and tall, to 28 m (92 ft), exceptionally to 43 m (141 ft) tall, with a trunk of up to 50–100 cm (20–39 in) diameter. Open-grown trees do not get as tall, but can develop a stouter trunk, up to 2 m (6.6 ft) in diameter. It has stout branches growing at right angles to the stem, forming a narrow round-topped head. It grows rapidly and is tolerant of many soils and varied situations, although it prefers the glacial drift and well-drained borders of streams.[3] It is frequently a part of the canopy in an oak-heath forest, but generally not as important as some other oaks.[4][5][6]

Under optimal conditions and full sun, northern red oak is fast growing and a 10-year-old tree can be 5–6 m (16–20 ft) tall.[7] Trees may live up to 500 years according to the USDA,[8] and a living example of 326 years was noted in 2001 by Orwig et al.[6][9]

Northern red oak is easy to recognize by its bark, which features bark ridges that appear to have shiny stripes down the center. A few other oaks have bark with this kind of appearance in the upper tree, but the northern red oak is the only tree with the striping all the way down the trunk.[6]

  • 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.
  • Wood: Pale reddish brown, sapwood darker, heavy, hard, strong, coarse-grained. Cracks in drying, but when carefully treated could be successfully used for furniture. Also used in construction and for interior finish of houses. Sp. gr., 0.6621; weight of cu. ft., 41.25 lbs.
  • Winter buds: Dark chestnut brown (reddish brown), ovate, acute, generally 6 mm long[6]
  • Leaves: Alternate, seven to nine-lobed, oblong-ovate to oblong, five to ten inches long, four to six inches broad; seven to eleven lobes tapering gradually from broad bases, acute, and usually repandly dentate and terminating with long bristle-pointed teeth; the second pair of lobes from apex are largest; midrib and primary veins conspicuous. Lobes are less deeply cut than most other oaks of the red oak group (except for black oak which can be similar). Leaves emerge from the bud convolute, pink, covered with soft silky down above, coated with thick white tomentum below. When full grown are dark green and smooth, sometimes shining above, yellow green, smooth or hairy on the axils of the veins below. In autumn they turn a rich red, sometimes brown. Often the petiole and midvein are a rich red color in midsummer and early autumn, though this is not true of all red oaks. The acorns mature in about 18 months after pollination; solitary or in pairs, sessile or stalked; nut oblong-ovoid with broad flat base, full, with acute apex, one half to one and one-fourth of an inch long, first green, maturing nut-brown; cup, saucer-shaped and shallow, 2 cm (0.79 in) wide, usually covering only the base, sometimes one-fourth of the nut, thick, shallow, reddish brown, somewhat downy within, covered with thin imbricated reddish brown scales. Its kernel is white and very bitter.[3] Despite this bitterness, they are eaten by deer, squirrels and birds.[6]

Red oak acorns, unlike the white oak group, display epigeal dormancy and will not germinate without a minimum of three months' exposure to sub-40 °F (4 °C) temperatures. They also take two years of growing on the tree before development is completed.[6]

Autumn foliage 
Detail of mature bark 
Red oak sapling in Hohenlohe, Germany 


Red oak in Appalachian mountains

The northern red oak is one of the most important oaks for timber production in North America. Quality red oak is of high value as lumber and veneer, while defective logs are used as firewood. Other related oaks are also cut and marketed as red oak, although their wood is not always of as high a quality. These include eastern black oak, scarlet oak, pin oak, Shumard oak, southern red oak and other species in the red oak group. Construction uses include flooring, veneer, interior trim, and furniture. It is also used for lumber, railroad ties, and fence posts.

Red oak wood grain is so open that smoke can be blown through it from end-grain to end-grain on a flat-sawn board. For this reason, it is subject to moisture infiltration and is unsuitable for outdoor uses such as boatbuilding or exterior trim.[citation needed]

Ornamental use[edit]

Quercus rubra is grown in parks and large gardens as a specimen tree.[10] It is not planted as often as the closely related pin oak as it develops a taproot and quickly becomes difficult to transplant. Acorns should either be sown in the location where the tree is intended to be planted or else moved to their permanent location within the seedling's first year. As the tree gets older, the taproot gradually becomes less dominant and the lateral root network expands. Northern red oak is easy to start from seed, however the acorns must be protected from animal predation over the winter months.

As with other oaks, germination takes place in late spring when all frost danger has passed. The seedling grows rapidly for its first month, then pauses for another month, and sends out more new shoots until September when growth stops for the year. If the weather stays favorable, a third burst of growth may occur.

Famous specimens[edit]

  • Ashford Oak – A very large Northern Red Oak in Ashford, Connecticut. The tree has suffered falling limbs because of its great age. However, this tree is still a sight to behold; the trunk is 8 m (26 ft) in circumference and the root-knees are also particularly impressive. The oak is located on Giant Oak Lane off U.S. Highway 44. There are several other large oaks in the area.[11]
  • Chase Creek Red Oak – This forest tree is located on a very rich steep slope in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. It is a high-stump coppice with three leads. It was the state champion oak in Maryland in 2002. The circumference at breast height is 6.7 m (22 ft), the height 41.5 m (136 ft) and the spread 29.9 m (98 ft)[11]
  • Shera-Blair Red Oak – This majestic red oak tree is located on Shelby Street in the South Frankfort neighborhood in Franklin County, Kentucky, and is the largest red oak tree in the oldest neighborhood in Frankfort, Kentucky. It is in the backyard of a house built in 1914 by architect Arthur Raymond Smith, who at one time worked for D.X. Murphy & Bros., famed architects that designed the twin spires at Churchill Downs. The circumference at breast height is 6.4 m (21 ft), with the trunk reaching higher than 40 feet before the branches begin and an estimated height of 130 feet.


  1. ^ NatureServe (2006), "Quercus rubra", NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life, Version 6.1., Arlington, retrieved 2007-06-13  |first2= missing |last2= in Authors list (help)
  2. ^ "Quercus rubra". County-level distribution map from the North American Plant Atlas (NAPA). Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Keeler, Harriet L. (1900). Our Native Trees and How to Identify Them. New Roak: Charles Scriber's Sons. pp. 349–354. 
  4. ^ The Natural Communities of Virginia Classification of Ecological Community Groups (Version 2.3), Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, 2010 Archived January 5, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Schafale, M. P. and A. S. Weakley. 1990. Classification of the natural communities of North Carolina: third approximation. North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Flora of North America: Quercus rubra
  7. ^ Arbor Day Foundation, Northern Red Oak
  8. ^ United States Department of Agriculture Plant Guide
  9. ^ Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Columbia University, Eastern US oldlist
  10. ^ "RHS Plant Selector – Quercus rubra". Retrieved 27 June 2013. 
  11. ^ a b Rucker, Colby B. (February 2004), Great Eastern Trees, Past and Present, retrieved 2007-05-05 

External links[edit]