Northern Red Oak (Quercus ruba)

Northern Red Oak

The Northern Red Oak (Quercus ruba) is a deciduous, monoecious, angiosperm in the Beech Family (Fagaceae). The genus name is from the Latin for "oak." The species name is Latin for "red." The family name is Latin for "beech." The common name comes from the reddish color of the leaves in the fall. This tree can grow to a height of 100 feet (30 meters) with a trunk diameter of up to 2½ feet (80 centimeters). The crown of this tree consists of strong, spreading branches. The Northern Red Oak is an important source of hardwood lumber and is one of the most common oaks in Maine.

The leaves are from four inches (10 centmeters) to ten inches (25 centimeters)  long and from three inches (8 centimeters) to six inches (15 centimeters) wide. They are alternate and elliptical with seven to eleven shallow lobes whose sinuses  usually extend less than halfway to the midvein. There are a few scattered, irregular, bristle-tipped teeth. The tops of the leaves are dull green and the bottoms are a lighter green. These leaves turn red or brown in the fall. Some leaves may be spotted with the fall colors during the growing season as seen in the photograph below.

Red Oak Leaves and Acorns

Red Oak Fall Foliage

The fruit is an egg-shaped acorn from ⅝ inch (15 millimeters) to 1¼ inches (30 millimeters) long with a broad cup that covers about ⅓ of the acorn. The green acorn takes two years to reach maturity before it drops off the tree as a green to brown nut. Acorns on the Northern Red Oak grow in clusters of two to five. Northern Red Oaks under twenty years of age do not bear fruit.

Red Oak Acorns

The following photograph shows a mature Northern Red Oak acorn. Note the shallow cup.

Mature Acorn

The bark is gray to black with shallow reddish furrows between broad scaly ridges.

Red Oak Bark

The flowers are are catkins as shown in the photograph below. Flowering is from April to May.

Oak Tassels

The minimum root depth for a Red Oak is 36 inches (91 centimeters).

Native Americans ate the acorns of the Northern Red Oak. The acorns were boiled, leached with ashes and soaked in water before being consumed. The bark was used as a medicine.

The lumber from this tree is commercially valuable in the manufacture of furniture, flooring, cabinets, paneling, posts and railroad ties.

The Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea) is a similar tree found in Maine but is more common to the south. The entire group of similar oaks will hybridize with one another, which can cause some identification problems.


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