Northern Red Oak

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
Located next to Sage Hall, this Northern Red Oak lumbers over its neighboring foliage.
Matt, Sam (Mariana, Supriya, Annabelle)
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
19.80 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.54 m

The Northern Red Oak can easily be identified by its unique bark. The bark is typically a dark reddish gray brown, and is scaly with broad, thin, rounded ridges. The bark is recognizable because of these ridges, which appear to have shiny stripes running down their center. As the tree ages and grows, the bark also develops distinctive furrows, which appear as "cracks" alternating with the ridges on the bark. The bark, being relatively thin compared to other trees, makes the Northern Red Oak more susceptible to fire damage.
Twigs & branches
The Northern Red Oak has stout branches that tend to grow out at right angles from the stem, and form a narrow round-topped head. The twigs are typically yellowish brown or reddish brown, cylindrical, and smooth with scattered white lenticels (for gas exchange). The twigs have hairless scales that are typically reddish-brown in color, but can appear frosty at the tips. The twigs also possess terminal buds.
The leaves of the Northern Red Oak are present in an alternate pattern, and are simple leaves with 7 to 11 lobes. Each lobe has a bristle tip. The leaves tend to be about 5-8" long and 2.5-6" across. In color, they are dull dark green on their upper surface, with a slightly paler shade beneath in summer, which changes to shades of red in the fall, before falling off during the late fall/winter.
Reproductive Structures
The Northern Red Oak is monoecious, with both male and female reproductive organs in the same individual. The male flowers are hanging catkins, while females flowers are tiny spikes in the axils of new leaves. Northern Red Oaks will tend to develop seeds in abundance beginning at age 50, and the quantity of seed production varies annually. High seed yields occur irregularly, typically every 2-5 years.
The fruit of the Northern Red Oak is an acorn. The acorns are typically medium brown, barrel-shaped and about an inch long. They have a thin, flat cap, with appressed scales enclosing about a fourth of the nut. They can generally be expected to first bear fruit at 25 years of age, although most don't produce acorns in abundance until 50 years of age. In very favorable conditions, trees as young as 10 years may bear some fruit. The trees typically produce good crops every 2 to 5 years, and the acorns can maintain viability in ideal settings for up to 3 years. The acorns of the Northern Red Oak typically grow singly or in clusters of two to five. The acorns are brown when mature, and typically ripen from late August to late October depending on the geographic location of the tree. Typically, only about 1% of acorns will become available to grow a new Northern Red Oak tree. Acorns are commonly consumed by birds, squirrels, mice, and insects. The primary dispersion methods for the acorn are transportation by both mice and squirrels.
  • Mid-April (Early Spring)
  • Late April
Natural range of distribution: 
The Northern Red Oak is the only native oak extending northeast to Nova Scotia, and growing from Minnesota south to eastern Nebraska and Oklahoma, east to Arkansas, southern Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina. The climates in which these trees grow is varied. The mean annual precipitation ranges from about 760 mm in the Northwest to 2030 mm in the southern Appalachians, and the annual snowfall ranges from traces to 254 cm. The mean annual temperature ranges from about 4 degrees Celsius to 16 degrees C, and the frost-free period ranges from 100 to 220 days on average depending on the location. The Northern Red Oak is relatively adaptable to different soil conditions. They can grow in acidic, loamy, moist, sandy, well-drained, and clay soils. Though normal moisture is preferable, the tree does have some drought tolerance. They commonly grow on mesic slopes and well-drained uplands, as well as on lower and middle slopes, in coves, ravines, and valley floors. Typically found on North and East-facing slopes, in the varieties of soil types previously listed.
Origin, history, and uses: 

The Northern Red Oak was first cultivated in 1724, and has since been a popular ornamental shade tree in eastern North America and parts of Europe. The acorns of the Northern Red Oak, as well as many other species of oak, were traditionally an important food source for Native American people. Specifically, the acorns of the Northern Red Oak were leached with ashes to remove bitter tannins and then used in various foods. The bark was also used for medicinal purposes. Currently, Northern Red Oaks are an important source of hardwood lumber, used for a wide variety of purposes including furniture, veneer, and railway ties. The foliage and cavities of the Northern Red Oak have been shown to serve as good cover and nesting sites for small mammals and birds. As the Northern Red Oak grows relatively fast and is resilient to urban environments, such as acidic soil, they are often used for decorative purposes in man made structures such as golf courses. 

Northern Red Oaks are deciduous trees which have lifespans of about 200 years, although some have been found at upwards of 400 years of age. Northern red oak acorn germination is hypogeal, meaning the seed leaves remain subterranean. Germination occurs during the spring after the initial seed fall. Germination is followed by a rapid growth of the taproot. The taproot can penetrate into the soil, allowing young seedlings to survive significant water stress. Shoot growth occurs in irregular intervals, when water, light, and temperature conditions are optimal. Northern Red Oaks have intermediate shade tolerance, but oftentimes are unable to grow beneath their own canopies. Seeds grown beneath Northern Red Oaks will usually fail to reach even sapling size, unless a break in the canopy is present. The Northern Red Oak reaches maximum photosynthesis levels of approximately 30% in the open. The Northern Red Oak, being susceptible to fire damage, has adapted to periodic fires. Older trees tend to survive, allowing seedlings and saplings to sprout from the stumps after being top-killed. Even if some trees survive the initial burn, however, the fire can kill the tissue at the base of the tree and allow the entry of decay causing fungi.
Media and Arts

Queries for a Quercus Rubra

How many branches can you count, or do you already know?

Would you know your name, if I asked you?

The blinding lights that beam from below, do they keep you from falling asleep?

And do you sleep through the winter, when your leaves have fallen, or just at night?

Do you know how old you are?

Do you remember the day you first broke through the soil?

Do you remember reaching into the open air and sprouting your first leaf?

And that first leaf changing from green to red?

Do you remember your first blade of brown coarse armor?

Do you think of dying, or is that moment too distant to fear?

I stare up at your web of limbs and am curious, 

Do you feel empty in half-bloom?

Is it like wearing a tattered shirt on a chilly night?

Or do you know the cold too well to feel it?

A construction paper rendering of the Northern Red Oak, in autumn.