Northern Red Oak

Quercus rubra

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Illustration of northern red oak leaf.
Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) leaf.
Paul Nelson
Family

Fagaceae (oaks)

Description

Northern red oak is a large tree with a tall, straight trunk; large, spreading branches; and a rounded crown.

Leaves are alternate, simple, 5–9 inches long, with 7–11 bristle-tipped lobes cut halfway to the midrib. Lobes are uneven in size and length, those along the upper half short and broad. Upper surface smooth, yellow-green; lower surface smooth with occasional tufts at the intersection of the veins.

Bark is greenish-brown to gray, becoming brown to black with age. Grooves shallow, ridges wide, flat-topped, grayish bark appearing as stripes. Bark on upper trunk rough and shallow-fissured, with broad, smooth streaks; bark on lower trunk gray to black, deeply furrowed.

Twigs are slender, reddish-brown, slightly hairy at first, becoming smooth and shiny. Buds reddish, fringed with hair.

Flowers April–May, in catkins.

Fruits September–October, acorns, reddish-brown, shiny, 1–1¼ inches long, barrel-shaped, hairy at the cup end. Cup encloses about ¼ of the nut. Acorns ripen in autumn of second year.

Size

Height: to 100 feet.

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northern red oak
Northern Red Oak

northern_red_oak_acorn.jpg

Illustration of northern red oak acorn.
Northern Red Oak Acorn
Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) acorn.

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Illustration of oak flowers and catkins, male and female.
Oak Flowers
All oak flowers are similar in appearance and emerge in early spring as the new leaves are expanding. Male and female flowers appear on the same tree.

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Missouri Champion Northern Red Oak
Missouri Champion Northern Red Oak
Habitat and conservation

Occurs on well-drained soils of moist ravines and bottomland sites, north- and east-facing upland slopes, and on slopes at the bases of bluffs. Thrives on fertile, sandy loam soils. Widespread in the eastern United States, it was long ago introduced into Europe as a landscaping tree, and its range is currently spreading in western Europe. The lumber industry and many field guides separate oak trees into two broad groups: the "white oaks" and the "red oaks." This species typifies the latter.

image of Northern Red Oak distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Human connections

To the lumber industry, northern red oak is less desirable than white oak. It is used for bridge timbers, cross ties, flooring, clapboards, rough construction lumber, furniture, veneer, interior finishing, and fuel. Its attractive bark and noble look makes it a popular street and park tree.

Ecosystem connections

The acorns of red oaks are not as sweet as those of white oaks, but they are nevertheless eaten by an array of wildlife, including blue jay, woodpeckers, turkey, mice, squirrels, raccoon, and deer. As trees mature, grow old, die, and decay, they offer sites for nests and dens to many animals.