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This ornamental, deciduous tree puts on a fiery display from late fall through early winter when most other trees have lost their leaves. Its blazing scarlet leaves, from which its common name is derived, are a striking contrast against a blue sky or a white blanket of early snow. It grows rapidly to 50-70 feet, and the open, rounded canopy casts light shade that allows underplantings to flourish. Ideal conditions are full sun and somewhat dry, acidic soil, but it will grow in a wide range of soils. Although similar to pin, black, and red oaks, scarlet oak’s leaves have deep, C-shaped sinuses, and its larger acorns have deep, scaly caps. Because scarlet oak is tolerant of pollution, heat and humidity, wind, and drought, it’s commonly planted along streets and in yards.


Oak is one of the most valuable trees for wildlife. It hosts hundreds of species of Lepidoptera larvae, and the acorns are a mast food for wildlife. The acorns need two seasons to mature, and especially large crops are produced every three to five years.


Native habitats include the Ohio River Basin, the dry sides of ridges and slopes, and gravelly upland ridges and slopes. Scarlet oak is ideal for drier sites and yards, streets, and parks. It has a tap root and doesn’t transplant easily, so choose sites carefully.


Plant Characteristics:

Grows 60-80’ tall and 40-50’ wide.


Requires at least six hours of sun.


Prefers acidic, average-to-dry, well-drained soil, but grows in a wide range of soils. Very tolerant of drought.


Yellow-green male and female flowers appear on the same tree in April and May, followed by ovoid acorns that are ½-1” long and half-covered by bowl-like, scaly caps.


Leaves are 4-7” long with 7 narrow, bristle-tipped lobes separated by deep sinuses; surfaces are glossy green and undersides are paler glossy green. Foliage turns vivid red in fall.


Young bark is smooth and gray, darkening with age to gray-brown and developing ridges and scaly plates. Inner bark is reddish-brown.


Wildlife Value:

Oaks are a host plant for 477 caterpillar species, including those of the clymene and rosy maple moths, and the red-spotted admiral butterfly (pictured here, in order, followed by their adult forms). Acorns are an important food source for many large songbirds, wild turkeys, grouse, squirrels, and white-tailed deer. Our most important keystone plant, oaks offer food, shelter, cover, and nesting sites for a number of animals. The branches, nooks, crannies, and hollow areas in oak trees afford protection from the elements, a place to rest, safety from predators, and nesting areas to raise young. Many animals feed on the small acorns, twigs, buds, shoots, and leaves of oaks. Oak trees attract hundreds of insects and invertebrates that feed on their foliage. These insects, in turn, attract insectivorous birds, reptiles, frogs, and mammals, developing a very dynamic food web within the forest. Because oak trees attract such a wide variety of insects, they are considered to be one of the most important trees for woodland dwelling birds. Caterpillars are of particular benefit to nesting birds since thi is the primary food of young while in the nest.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

The tannins were used medicinally as an astringent and to treat hemorrhaging and intestinal problems.


Native Americans used the acorns for making coffee, as a thickener for soups and stews, or mixed with cereals for bread.


The wood, which has a light-to-medium reddish-brown color, is easy to glue and produces an attractive finish. It has a pleasant odor that is common with most oaks. Because it’s common and reasonably priced, red oak is widely used in furniture, cabinetry, interior trim, flooring, and veneer.

Oak, Scarlet, Quercus coccinea

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