Northern Red Oak

Illustration of northern red oak leaf.
Scientific Name
Quercus rubra
Fagaceae (oaks)

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.

Height: to 100 feet.
Where To Find
image of Northern Red Oak distribution map
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.
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.
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.
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Similar Species

Where to See Species

Marshall Junction Conservation Area is off Route CC in southern Saline County. The area is approximately two miles south and three miles west of the I-70/Highway 65 intersection.
Gallatin Conservation Area is in Daviess County, five miles south of Gallatin on Highway 13 and a half mile east on Route M.
Riverbreaks Conservation Area is located in southern portion of Holt County. The area is in two adjacent tracts approximately four miles southeast of the town of Oregon, off of Route O and Route T.
From 1892 through 1932 a dynamite factory on this site provided explosives for lead, zinc and coal mines in the tri-state area and nitroglycerin for use in Oklahoma oil fields.
About Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines in Missouri
There are no sharp dividing lines between trees, shrubs, and woody vines, or even between woody and nonwoody plants. “Wood” is a type of tissue made of cellulose and lignin that many plants develop as they mature — whether they are “woody” or not. Trees are woody plants over 13 feet tall with a single trunk. Shrubs are less than 13 feet tall, with multiple stems. Vines require support or else sprawl over the ground.