Scarlet Oak

Quercus coccinea


Illustration of scarlet oak leaf.
Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) leaf.
Paul Nelson

Fagaceae (oaks)


Scarlet oak is a medium-sized tree with a long, straight trunk, an open, narrow crown, and sometimes persistent dead branches on the lower trunk.

Leaves are alternate, simple, 3–7 inches long, with 7–9 lobes extending more than halfway to the central vein, the notches rounded and C-shaped, the lobe tips with large, bristle-tipped teeth. The upper surface is bright green, shiny, and smooth; the lower surface is paler, sometimes with tufts of rusty hairs at the axis of main veins. Leaves turn scarlet in autumn.

Bark has shallow grooves and irregular ridges, becomes scaly with age.

Twigs are slender, greenish at first; orange-red or brown with age, smooth or hairy. Bud scales have whitish hairs near the tip.

Flowers April–May, in catkins.

Fruits September–October, acorns solitary or paired; nut brown, broadest near the base, ½–1 inch long, top sometimes with concentric rings; cup covering about ½ of the nut, cup scales thick, flattened, sometimes warty, shiny, smooth. Acorns ripen in autumn of the second year.


Height: 80 feet.


scarlet oak
Scarlet Oak


Illustration of scarlet oak acorn.
Scarlet Oak Acorn
Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) acorn.

Oak _Quercus_spp_Flowers.jpg

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.
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in acid soils associated with sandstone, chert, or igneous rocks on narrow ridges, slopes, and upland woods bordering headwaters of tributary streams. Grows on the poor, relatively dry soils of the Ozarks, often mixed with black, post, and white oaks as well as with shortleaf pine. It forms nearly pure stands on broad, flat ridges in some areas of the Ozarks.

image of Scarlet Oak distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Common tree of the Missouri Ozarks, occupying much the same area as shortleaf pine, with which it frequently grows. Potentially cultivated statewide.

Human connections

Lumber from scarlet oak makes up a large part of Missouri’s timber harvest.

This oak is also used for windbreaks.

Scarlet oak is a popular landscaping tree for its relatively fast growth, attractive form, and scarlet autumn foliage. It does better than pin oak in drier sites, but it doesn’t tolerate air pollution as well.

Ecosystem connections

A prolific bearer of acorns, scarlet oak is an important wildlife tree.

When Missouri’s shortleaf pine forests were felled (before the 1920s), scarlet and black oak soon dominated those areas. Now that those trees are nearing the end of their lives, land managers are reintroducing the shortleaf pine.