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This magnificent tree casts dense shade and is a spectacular specimen in every season. Among the largest and fastest-growing of oak trees, northern red oak is a stately ornamental that commonly grows 65-100’ tall with a rounded, symmetrical shape and brilliant fall foliage. It thrives in full sun and prefers slightly acidic, well-drained loam but adapts to a wide range of soils. It hosts hundreds of caterpillars, and its large, meaty acorns are a preferred food for many birds and mammals. It tolerates pollution and compacted soil and is fairly easy to transplant. Also called gray oak and eastern red oak, it belongs to the red oak group, which is distinguishable from the white oak group by acorns with hairy inner caps that take two seasons to develop, leaves that have 7-9 pointed-and- bristle-tipped lobes, and large buds with pointy ends. The gray-brown bark develops long, flat-topped furrows and the trunks are typically straight and tall, especially in competitive forest conditions. Although it’s deciduous, the leaves often stay on through winter, providing cover for various wildlife.


Native habitats include rich woods, moist upland woods, sandy or typical savannas, rock outcrops, ravines and valleys, and edges of floodplains.


Northern red oak is used in rehabilitation projects and on challenging sites, such as acidic areas and coal mine spoils in Ohio. Plant it near streets, on lawns, and anywhere it has plenty of room to grow and spread its glorious canopy.


Plant Characteristics:

Grows 65-100’ tall and wide. In ideal conditions, may grow to 180’ tall.


Prefers full sun, but tolerates part shade.


Prefers sandy or fertile, somewhat acidic, well-drained soils but adapts to alkaline, clay, loam, and rocky soils. It appreciates normal moisture but tolerates drought.


Pale yellow-green male catkins and tiny red female flowers appear on the same branches in April or May. The fruit is a 1-2” acorn or nut that occurs singly or in clusters. A scaly, thick, beret-like cap covers ¼ of the nut, which ripens from late August to late October.


Pinkish-red leaves emerge in April or May, growing 5-9” long and turning from dull or glossy green to russet or bright red in fall.


Straight trunk has gray to grayish-brown bark, shallow vertical furrows, and smooth-topped ridges that become checkered with age.


Wildlife Value:

Oaks are a host plant for royal walnut and clymene moths (pictured here with their caterpillars), and Juvenal's duskywing and hairstreak butterflies, plus 473 other species of Lepidoptera! The flowers attract hummingbirds, and the acorns are especially important for wild turkeys. The acorns also feed bobwhites, woodpeckers, jays, tufted titmice, flying and gray squirrels, deer, foxes, and more.


The dense foliage and persistent leaves provide cover for squirrels, birds, and many small mammals. Woodpeckers nest in cavities in the trunk.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

The acorns are edible once the tannins have been leached out. They are often roasted or made into flour.


The wood, which is heavy, hard, and coarse-grained, is a favorite of lumbermen and landscapers. The tree’s rapid growth habit has encouraged producers to rely on it for timber. It has been used for railroad ties, fenceposts, veneer, furniture, cabinets, paneling, flooring, caskets, and pulpwood, and it is an excellent firewood.

Oak, Northern Red, Quercus rubra

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