A fast-growing member of the red oak group, pin oak is a slender and graceful ornamental tree. It grows well in wet conditions (aka swamp oak); has a distinctive branching pattern, including short, pin-like branches; and has high tolerance for acidic and compacted soils, flooding, excessive heat, and pollution. It develops chlorosis in alkaline soils and does not tolerate drought. With its dense foliage and oval form, it’s a lovely choice for a shade tree and is one of the most common trees used in landscaping. The green, deeply lobed leaves turn various shades of scarlet and bronze in fall, and small acorns adorn the branches, which have a unique growth habit. The lower branches hang downward, while the middle branches grow horizontally and the upper branches reach for the sky. The colorful leaves hang on the limbs through winter, making the tree an attractive sight in barren landscapes.
Oak trees are one of the most beneficial trees for wildlife. Pin oak hosts hundreds of lepidoptera larvae, and the acorns are a preferred food for many species of animals. The insects that feed on the foliage attract insectivorous birds, reptiles, frogs, and mammals, which develops a dynamic food web within the forests.
Pin oak is a bottomland tree and doesn’t usually grow in high elevations or on slopes. It’s often found in damp lowlands and near rivers, streams, or lakes. Use as a specimen and shade tree in yards or massed in larger acreages. If used on streets, prune the lower branches for additional clearance. The shallow root system makes the tree fairly easy to transplant.
Grows 60-80’ tall and 25-45’ wide. May grow up to 100’ tall in ideal conditions.
Prefers full sun and tolerates part sun.
Prefers moist, acidic soils and adapts to many soil types but does not tolerate alkaline soils or drought.
Yellow-green male catkins that are 5¬7" long appear in April and May. Reddish female flowers grow on short spikes and yield rounded, dark brown acorns that are ½" long with a thin, saucer-like tan cap made of tight scales.
Leathery, dark green leaves are 3–6" long with 5 (or 7-9) bristle-tipped lobes separated by deep sinuses.
Central trunk is straight from base to top of tree. The bark is smooth and reddish gray when young, becoming darker gray and slightly fissured as the tree matures.
Host plant for 477 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including the mourning cloak butterfly pictured here. The branches, nooks, crannies, and hollow cavities offer cover and nesting areas for birds and small mammals. Many animals feed on the small twigs, buds, shoots, and leaves.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Acorns are edible and may be used for cooking or baking once the tannins have been leached out. Acorn powder can be used for a thickening agent in soups and stews. Native Americans ground the acorns to make coffee.
The wood is heavy, strong, and hard. It’s used for cabinetry, flooring, and furniture.
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