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Northern Red Oak

January 3, 2022

Tree of the Month

Quercus rubra

A large stately tree native to the eastern United States and Canada from the Great Lakes to Nova Scotia and south to Georgia.  It is the “State Tree” of New Jersey.  A healthy red oak can grow 1-2 feet per year and attain a height of 90-125’ and a spread of 60-90’.  Pyramidal in habit when young, they take on a more rounded appearance with age if they are open grown and not competing for light in the forest.

The buds are pointed, reddish in color and slightly shiny.  The terminal buds are arranged in clusters, like all oaks, providing a good winter identification feature.  Leaves are a lustrous, medium to dark green in summer with 7-11 sharp lobes with hairy bristles at each tip.  Fall color is typically yellow to orange.
Red oaks have some of the largest acorns, up to an inch across and round with a reddish-brown cap.  They may also retain their acorns later in the season and drop them in the late fall to early winter, providing a diet staple for many birds, deer, fox, squirrels and bears.

Bark is smooth and brown to gray developing corky ridges near the base and smooth gray stripes resembling ski trails on older trees.  The wood is dense, heavy, reddish in color, decay resistant and very useful for a variety of purposes from firewood to lumber and furniture making.

Red oak can be home to many foliar diseases and insect pests, most of which are not severe and are more of a nuisance or aesthetic problem for the plants.  One disease that can be fatal is bacterial leaf scorch (BLS).  This disease can be treated to mask the symptoms and prolong the trees lifespan, but as of now there is no known cure.

Given enough soil volume and the right care, a healthy red oak should easily love 100-150 years, with some specimens surviving as long as 500 years.  Red oaks are a great shade tree for yards, gardens and city streets that should supply decades to centuries of shade and splendor in the landscape.

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