Ivan L. Sander
Northern red oak (Quercus rubra), also known as common red oak, eastern red oak, mountain red oak, and gray oak, is widespread in the East and grows on a variety of soils and topography, often forming pure stands. Moderate to fast growing, this tree is one of the more important lumber species of red oak and is an easily transplanted, popular shade tree with good form and dense foliage.
General: Beech Family (Fagaceae). Native trees often reaching 20–30 m tall, less commonly up to 50 m; bark dark gray or black, shallowly furrowed into broad hard scaly ridges, inner bark reddish to pink; generally developing a strong taproot and network of deep, spreading laterals. Leaves are deciduous, alternate, elliptic, 10–25 cm long and 8–15 cm wide, divided less than halfway to midvein into 7–11 shallow wavy lobes with a few irregular bristle-tipped teeth, sinuses usually extending less than 1/2 distance to midrib, glabrous and dull green above, light dull green below with tufts of hairs in vein angles. Male and female flowers are borne in separate catkins on the same tree (the species monoecious), the staminate catkins in leaf axils of the previous year's growth, the pistillate in 2–many-flowered spikes in the leaf axils. Acorns maturing in the second year, about 15–30 mm long, with a broad usually shallow cup, borne singly or in clusters of 2–5. The common name is in reference to the red fall foliage color, red petioles, and reddish interior wood. This is a different species from “southern red oak” (Q. falcata).
Northern red oak is a member of the red oak subgroup (subg. Erythrobalanus = sect. Lobatae). It hybridizes with related species, including scarlet oak (Q. coccinea), northern pin oak (Q. ellipsoidalis), shingle oak (Q. imbricata), scrub oak (Q. ilicifolia), blackjack oak (Q. marilandica), swamp oak (Q. palustris), willow oak (Q. phellos), Shumard oak (Q. shumardii), and black oak (Q. velutina).
Variation within the species: There are different interpretations of variation patterns among trees of northern red oak. A single species without formally variants is sometimes recognized, or two varieties may be recognized.
Quercus rubra var. ambigua (A. Gray) Fernald
SY= Q. borealis Michx. f.
SY= Q. rubra var. borealis (Michx. f.) Farw.
Quercus rubra var. rubra
SY= Q. maxima (Marsh.) Ashe
SY= Q. borealis var. maxima (Marsh.) Ashe
Var. rubra has a shallow cup, to 3 cm wide, enclosing 1/4–1/5 of the nut. Var. ambigua has a deeper cup, to 2 cm wide, enclosing 1/3 of the nut. McDougal and Parks (1984, 1986) found evidence of correspondence between morphological types and flavonoid chemotypes but the evolutionary status and geographic distribution of these have not been worked out in detail.
Red oak, common red oak, eastern red oak, mountain red oak, gray oak
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Occurrence in North America
KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO NE
NH NJ NY NC OH OK PA RI SC TN
VT VA WA WV WI NB NS ON PE PQ
United States and southeastern Canada. It grows from Quebec, Ontario,
Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick southward to southwestern Georgia and
Alabama [39,101]. Northern red oak extends westward through Minnesota
and Iowa, south through eastern Nebraska and Kansas to eastern Oklahoma
. It occurs locally in eastern and southwestern Louisiana and
western Mississippi [39,69].
The variety rubra grows in Georgia and Alabama, northward through
Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia to New England [93,104]. The
variety borealis occurs farther north than variety rubra does .
Variety borealis occurs in Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina in
the South and extends northward throughout New England to Maine
-The native range of northern red oak.
Northern red oak is widely distributed throughout much of the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. It grows from Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick southward to southwestern Georgia, Alabama, northern Mississippi, northern Arkansas, and eastern Oklahoma. Northern red oak extends westward through Minnesota and Iowa, south through eastern Nebraska and Kansas to eastern Oklahoma. It occurs locally in eastern and southwestern Louisiana and western Mississippi. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.
Northern red oak is a medium to large, variable deciduous tree [39,47].
It is the tallest and most rapidly growing of the oaks  and commonly
reaches 65 to 98 feet (20-30 m) in height and 2 to 3 feet (61-91 m) in
diameter . On extremely favorable sites plants may grow to 160
feet (49 m) and up to 8 feet (2.4 m) in diameter . Trees are tall,
straight, and columnar with a large crown in forested stands but are
characterized by a short bole and spreading crown in openings .
Plants generally have a strongly developed taproot and a network of
deep, spreading laterals [47,56]. The gray to grayish-brown bark has
shallow vertical furrows and low ridges and becomes checkered with age
Northern red oak is monoecious. Staminate catkins are borne in leaf
axils of the previous year's growth, whereas pistillate catkins occur in
two- to many-flowered spikes in the axils of leaves . The acorns
are approximately 0.8 to 1.3 inch (20-33 mm) in length, with a shallow,
saucer-shaped cup [26,39,47]. Acorns are borne singly or in clusters of
two to five . The nut contains a large, white, bitter kernel .
The variety borealis is characterized by smaller acorn cups .
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Northern red oak grows on a variety of dry-mesic to mesic sites . It
occurs in rich, mesic woods, on sandy plains, rock outcrops, stable
interdunes, and at the outer edges of floodplains [29,124,126].
Northern red oak is most common on north- and east-facing slopes
[30,101]. It typically grows on lower and middle slopes, in coves,
ravines, and on valley floors .
Plant associates: Overstory associates of northern red oak are numerous
and include white oak (Quercus alba), black oak, scarlet oak, southern
red oak, post oak (Q. stellata), eastern white pine (Pinus strobus),
American beech (Fagus grandifolia), sugar maple, red maple (Acer
rubrum), black cherry (Prunus serotina), American basswood (Tilia
americana), sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), white ash (Fraxinus
americana), green ash (F. pennsylvanica), aspen (Populus tremuloides),
hickories (Carya spp.), black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), black walnut
(Juglans nigra), jack pine (Pinus banksiana), eastern hemlock (Tsuga
canadensis), and elm (Ulmus spp.) [12,76,82,101]. Flowering dogwood
(Cornus florida), holly (Ilex spp.), eastern hophornbeam (Ostrya
virginiana), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), American bladdernut
(Staphylea trifolia), redbud (Cercis canadensis), persimmon (Diospyros
virginiana), and serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) are frequent small tree
associates . Common understory shrubs and vines include greenbrier
(Smilax spp.), blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), mountain-laurel (Kalmia
spp.), leatherwood (Dirca palustris), witch-hazel (Hamamelis
virginiana), beaked hazel (Corylus cornuta), spice bush (Lindera
benzoin), poison-ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), grape (Vitis spp.), and
rosebay rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) . Numerous herbaceous
species occur with northern red oak.
Climate: Annual precipitation averages 30 inches (76 cm) at the
northwestern edge of northern red oak's range and 80 inches (203 cm) in
the southern Appalachians . Mean annual temperatures range from 40
degrees F (4 deg C) in the North to 60 degrees F (16 deg C) in the South
. Growing season length varies from 100 to 220 days. Northern red
oak reaches its best development in the Ohio Valley and along the west
slope of the Allegheny Mountains where precipitation averages 40 inches
(102 cm) annually and average annual temperature is 52 degrees F (11
degrees C) .
Soils: Northern red oak grows on clay, loam, and sandy or gravelly
soils [20,101]. Soils may be deep and free of rocks, or shallow and
rocky . Plants generally exhibit best growth on deep, fertile,
well-drained, finely textured soils with a relatively high water table
[26,39,101]. Soils are derived from a variety of parent materials
including glacial outwash, sandstone, shale, limestone, gneiss, schist,
or granite .
Elevation: Northern red oak grows at relatively low elevations in the
Smoky Mountains. The variety rubra typically grows at lower elevations
than does the variety borealis . Generalized elevations ranges by
geographic location are as follows [73,101,113]:
s Appalachians up to 5,500 feet (1,680 m)
White Mtns. NH up to 1,476 feet (450 m)
IN 700 to 850 feet (214-259 m)
MO 800 to 1,300 feet (244-397 m)
MI 600 to 700 feet (182-214 m)
NY 900 to 1,400 feet (275-427 m)
NC 2,300 to 5,000 feet (702-1,525 m)
WV 1,800 to 3,500 feet (549-1,070 m)
WI 800 to 1,000 feet (244-305 m)
Key Plant Community Associations
including mixed mesophytic forests, pine-oak communities, and southern
bottomland forests [12,110].
Publications listing northern red oak as an indicator or dominant in
habitat type (hts) classifications are presented below:
Area Classification Authority
n MI, ne WI general veg. hts Coffman and others 1980
n WI general veg. hts Kotar and others 1988
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
1 Jack pine
14 Northern pin oak
15 Red pine
17 Pin cherry
18 Paper birch
19 Gray birch - red maple
20 White pine - northern red oak - red maple
21 Eastern white pine
22 White pine - hemlock
23 Eastern hemlock
25 Sugar maple - beech - yellow birch
26 Sugar maple - basswood
27 Sugar maple
28 Black cherry - maple
29 Black cherry
40 Post oak - blackjack oak
42 Bur oak
43 Bear oak
44 Chestnut oak
45 Pitch pine
46 Eastern redcedar
51 White pine - chestnut oak
52 White oak - black oak - northern red oak
53 White oak
55 Northern red oak
57 Yellow poplar
58 Yellow poplar - eastern hemlock
59 Yellow poplar - white oak - northern red oak
60 Beech - sugar maple
82 Loblolly pine - hardwood
108 Red maple
110 Black oak
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES10 White - red - jack pine
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES18 Maple - beech - birch
FRES19 Aspen - birch
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K095 Great Lakes pine forest
K099 Maple - basswood
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K102 Beech - maple
K103 Mixed mesophytic forest
K104 Appalachian oak forest
K110 Northeastern oak - pine forest
K111 Oak - hickory pine forest
Soils and Topography
These soils are derived from glacial material, residual sandstones, shale, limestone, gneisses, schists, and granites. They vary from clay to loamy sands and some have a high content of rock fragments. Northern red oak grows best on deep, welldrained loam to silty, clay loam soils (24).
Although northern red oak is found in all topographic positions, it always grows best on lower and middle slopes with northerly or easterly aspects, in coves and deep ravines, and on well-drained valley floors. It grows at elevations up to 1070 m (3,500 ft) in West Virginia and up to 1680 m (5,500 ft) in the southern Appalachians (24).
The most important factors determining site quality for northern red oak are depth and texture of the A soil horizon, aspect, and slope position and shape. The best sites are found on lower, concave slopes with a northerly or easterly aspect, on soils with a thick A horizon, and a loam to silt loam texture. Other factors may affect site quality in localized areas such as depth to water table in southern Michigan and annual precipitation up to 1120 mm (44 in) in northwestern West Virginia (2,24).
Adaptation: Northern red oak commonly grows on mesic slopes and well-drained uplands, less commonly on dry slopes or poorly drained uplands, at (0-) 150–1800 meters in elevation. It typically grows on lower and middle slopes, in coves, ravines, and on valley floors, most commonly on N- and E-facing slopes and on clay, loam, and sandy or gravelly soils. Best growth is in full sun and well drained, slightly acidic, sandy loam. It occurs as a dominant in many natural communities, including mixed mesophytic and pine-oak.
Northern red oak is intermediate in shade tolerance but generally unable to establish beneath its own canopy. Seedlings usually do not reach sapling or pole size unless gaps are created in the canopy. Northern red oak is often replaced by more shade-tolerant species such as sugar maple and American basswood.
Flowering occurs in April–May, during or before leaf development, while fruiting (August–) September–October.
General: Northern red oak generally first bears fruit at about 20–25 years, although most trees do not produce acorns in abundance until 40–50 years. Good crops are produced every 2–5 years. In most years, birds, mammals, and insects commonly destroy up to 80% of the crop and nearly the entire crop can be eliminated in poor years. Seeds on the soil surface are particularly vulnerable to rodent predation, and germination frequencies are much higher when a layer of leaf litter covers acorns. Under natural conditions, acorns generally germinate in the spring after over-wintering breaks dormancy.
Germination and seedling establishment may be successful in full and partial shade, but early growth is reduced by shade, poor soil, and competing herbaceous vegetation. Seedlings in mature stands may be present in large number, but few survive more than a few years or grow to more than 15–20 cm in height. Under optimal conditions, northern red oak is fast growing and trees may live up to 500 years.
Seedlings, saplings, and small poles of northern red oak can sprout if cut or burned. Although young oaks typically stump sprout readily, older and larger individuals also may sprout.
pulvinate, erumpent or superficial stroma of Daldinia fissa is saprobic on wood of Quercus rubra
Foodplant / saprobe
fruitbody of Marasmius quercophilus is saprobic on dead, fallen, decayed leaf of Quercus rubra
Other: minor host/prey
In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Foodplant / saprobe
becoming erumpent through longitudinal slits pycnidium of Phomopsis coelomycetous anamorph of Phomopsis quercella is saprobic on dead twig of Quercus rubra
Remarks: season: 12
Foodplant / spot causer
hypophyllous ascoma of Taphrina caerulescens causes spots on live, blistered leaf of Quercus rubra
Associated Forest Cover
17 Pin Cherry
18 Paper Birch
19 Gray Birch-Red Maple
21 Eastern White Pine
22 White Pine-Hemlock
23 Eastern Hemlock
25 Sugar Maple-Beech-Yellow Birch
26 Sugar Maple-Basswood
27 Sugar Maple
28 Black Cherry-Maple
40 Post Oak-Blackjack
42 Bur Oak
43 Bear Oak
44 Chestnut Oak
45 Pitch Pine
46 Eastern Redcedar
51 White Pine-Chestnut Oak
53 White Oak
58 Yellow-Poplar-Eastern Hemlock
60 Beech-Sugar Maple
82 Loblolly Pine-Hardwood
108 Red Maple
110 Black Oak
Numerous other tree species are associated with northern red oak. These include white ash (Fraxinus americana) and green ash (F. pennsylvanica); bigtooth aspen (Populus grandidentata) and quaking aspen (P. tremuloides); American elm (Ulmus americana) and slippery elm (U. rubra); pignut hickory (Carya glabra), bitternut hickory (C. cordiformis), mockernut hickory (C. tomentosa), and shagbark hickory (C. ovata); scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea), southern red oak (Q. falcata), post oak (Q. stellata), and chinkapin oak (Q. muehlenbergii); northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentalis); yellow buckeye (Aesculus octandra); cucumber magnolia (Magnolia acuminata); hackberry (Celtis occidentalis); butternut (Juglans cinerea); black walnut (J. nigra); blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica); and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) (5).
Some of the more important small trees associated with northern red oak include flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), American holly (Ilex opaca), eastern hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), redbud (Cercis canadensis), pawpaw (Asimina triloba), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), American bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia), and downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea). Shrubs common in forest stands containing northern red oak include Vaccinium spp., mountain-laurel (Kalmia latifolia), rosebay rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum), witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), beaked hazel (Corylus cornuta), spice bush (Lindera benzoin), and Viburnum spp. The most common vines are Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), poison-ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), greenbrier (Smilax spp.), and grape (Vitis spp.) (5).
Diseases and Parasites
Oak wilt (Ceratocystis fagacearum) is a potentially serious vascular disease of northern red oak and kills trees the same year they are infected. It usually kills individuals or small groups of trees in scattered locations throughout a stand but may affect areas up to several hectares in size. Oak wilt is spread from tree to tree through root grafts and over longer distances by sap-feeding beetles (Nitidulidae) and the small oak bark beetles (Pseudopityophthorus spp.) (12,23).
Shoestring root rot (Armillaria mellea) attacks and may kill northern red oaks that have been injured or weakened by fire, lightning, drought, insects, or other diseases. Cankers caused by Strumella and Nectria species damage the bole of northern red oak and although trees are seldom killed, the infected trees are generally culls for lumber. Foliage diseases that attack northern red oak but seldom do serious damage are anthracnose (Gnomonia quercina), leaf blister (Taphrina spp.), powdery mildews (Phyllactinia corylea and Microsphaera alni), and eastern gall rust (Cronartium quercuum) (12).
The carpenterworm (Prionoxystus robiniae), Columbian timber beetle (Corythylus columbianus), oak timberworm (Arrhenodes minutus), red oak borer (Enaphalodes rufulus), and the twolined chestnut borer (Agrilus bilineatus) are important insects that attack the bole of northern red oak. These insects tunnel into the wood, seriously degrading products cut from infested trees (3).
The most destructive defoliating insect attacking northern red oak is the imported gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar). This insect repeatedly defoliates trees and has killed oaks including northern red oak in a wide area in the northeastern United States. Northern red oak can recover from a single defoliation but may be weakened enough for some disease or other insects to attack and kill them. Other defoliators, that attack northern red oak are the variable oakleaf caterpillar (Heterocampa manteo), the orangestriped oakworm (Anisota senatoria), and the browntail moth (Nygmia phaeorrhoea). The Asiatic oak weevil (Cyrtepistomus castaneus) attacks northern red oak seedlings and has the potential to seriously affect seedling growth because the larvae feed on the fine roots while the adults feed on the foliage.
Much damage is done to northern red oak acorns by the nut weevils (Curculio spp.), gall-forming cynipids (Callirhytis spp.), the filbertworm (Melissopus latiferreanus), and the acorn moth (Valentinia glandulella) (7). In years of poor acorn production, these insects can destroy the entire crop.
Fire Management Implications
With 7,000 seedlings per acre (17,290/ha), a 50 to 60 percent reduction
in northern red oak seedling numbers may be acceptable as long as
competing vegetation is reduced. However, this spring fire had little
effect on competing vegetation. Study results suggest that a single,
low-severity spring burn may harm northern red oak seedlings where
postburn competition is intense. More research is needed to determine
conditions under which prescribed burns might control competing
vegetation and favor northern red oak reproduction.
Aspect: north to east.
Site index for northern red oak: 70.
Fire Management Considerations
Prescribed fire: Prescribed fire can be an important tool for
regenerating oak stands. However, results do not always favor oak.
Crow  reported that "although there is abundant evidence of a
general relationship between fire and the occurrence of oak, prescribed
burning is not yet a viable silvicultural tool for regenerating oak
stands." Most oaks sprout vigorously after fire, and competing
vegetation can be much reduced . However, a single low-intensity
fire may have little impact on competing vegetation . According to
Crow , a "commitment to frequent burning is needed to compensate for
decades of fire exclusion." In the southern Appalachians, biennial
summer burns are usually most effective in promoting advance
regeneration. Single pre- or post-harvest burns generally have
little effect .
Timber harvest and fire: Fire can be used to control competing
herbaceous vegetation after timber harvest . A series of cool or
low-severity prescribed fires prior to timber harvest can promote
advanced regeneration in oaks .
Fuels and flammability: Wydeven and Kloes  reported that a "fairly
cool" fire in an uncut northern red oak stand produced flame lengths of
1 to 1.8 feet (0.3-0.56 m). A "very hot" fire in a cut stand generated
flames 1.6 to 20 feet (0.5-6.0 m) high.
Broad-scale Impacts of Plant Response to Fire
Seedlings, saplings, and pole-sized individuals commonly sprout if girdled by fire. Damaged seedlings can often sprout several times and may ultimately grow beyond the fire-susceptible stage . Sprouting ability appears to decrease as plants age. Large trees much less likely to sprout if severely damaged by fire. On the George Washington National Forest, West Virginia, a spring prescribed fire promoted northern red oak seedling establishment but reduced northern red oak sprouts in a mixed-hardwood forest. Average red oak seedling densities before fire and in postfire year 5 were 0 and 26 seedlings/acre, respectively; northern red oak sprout densities were 658 sprouts/acre before and 0 sprouts/acre 5 years after the fire. See the Research Paper of Wendel and Smith's  study for details on the fire prescription and fire effects on northern red oak and 6 other tree species.
For further information on red oak response to fire, see Fire Case Studies. The Research Project Summaries Effects of surface fires in a mixed red and eastern white pine stand in Michigan and Early postfire effects of a prescribed fire in the southern Appalachians of North Carolina and the Research Paper by Bowles and others 2007 provide information on prescribed fire and postfire response of several plant species, including northern red oak, that was not available when this species review was originally written.
Plant Response to Fire
Young northern red oaks commonly sprout vigorously from the stumps or
root collar after aboveground portions of the plant are killed by fire
[24,63]. Stem density is often increased as fire promotes sprouting and
reduces competition [25,91]. Johnson  reported that one to three
living stems may originate from a single root collar. Frequent fire can
produce oak scrublands [25,52]. Hannah  reports that the "best"
sprouts often originate from buds located at, or below, ground level.
These sprouts may be more vigorous and less susceptible to rot or other
Seedling sprouts are often particularly important in postfire
reestablishment, but seedling establishment may also occur . Large
oaks that survive fire frequently serve as seed sources . Dying
trees often produce a massive seed crop. Acorns often germinate well on
mineral soil, and establishment may actually be favored in burned areas
. Scheiner and others  reported 56 sprouts per acre (138/ha)
and 51 seedlings per acre (125/ha) after a fire in Michigan.
Rouse  reported that most large oaks are "capable of minimizing
fire-caused losses due to damaged cambium by rerouting the functions of
fire-killed portions within weeks after a fire."
Specific response is presumably related to such factors as fire
severity, season of burn, and plant age and vigor. Fire does not always
produce increases in northern red oak. Van Lear and Waldrop 
reported that a spring fire in a northern red oak stand failed to
increase oak abundance in the understory.
Broad-scale Impacts of Fire
Oaks tend to be less susceptible to fire during the dormant season .
Individuals of poor vigor are less likely to heal following fire-induced
injury than are healthy vigorous specimens. Oaks growing in overstocked
stands typically exhibit lower vigor and are more susceptible to
fire-caused damage. Crooked or leaning trees are particularly
susceptible to damage since the flames are more likely to be directly
below the stem, thereby increasing the amount of heat received by the
bark's surface. Mortality or serious injury increases with greater fire
severity. Mortality of seedlings may be correlated with temperatures
near the root collars . [See FIRE CASE STUDY].
High mortality was reported after 8 years of biennial burning, although
mortality was not obvious until after the first 3 years. A spring fire
killed 58 percent of existing northern red oak seedlings and caused
severe damage to the boles of some overstory trees . However, an
"extremely hot" wildfire in Indiana, killed only 22 percent of
4-year-old plants . The tops of 92 percent of 1-year-old northern
red oak seedlings were killed by a low-severity prescribed burn in
Wisconsin, but regenerative portions of 38 percent survived .
Northern red oak is generally more severely fire-scarred than many other
oaks . When basal cambial tissue is seriously damaged by fire,
injuries often permit the entry of insects or decay that may ultimately
kill the tree [1,45,98,106]. Toole  reported that by the 2d year
after fire, 60 percent of wounded northern red oaks was infested by
insects. Heart rot spread to 2.5 times the height of the bark
discoloration within 7 years of the fire. Heart rot progressed more
slowly where the original fire scar represented less than 20 percent of
the tree's circumference and more rapidly where the fire scar was more
extensive. Rouse  estimated that rot traveled up the bole of a
fire-damaged tree at 1.25 feet (0.4 m) per decade.
Mortality equations based on d.b.h., and the width and height of bark
blackening have been developed for northern red oak . These
equations can be useful in predicting if a fire-damaged oak will
survivor species; on-site surviving root crown or caudex
survivor species; on-site surviving roots
off-site colonizer; seed carried by animals or water; postfire yr 1&2
More info for the terms: mesic, succession
Northern red oak is intermediate in shade tolerance . It is
generally considered a midseral species, but its successional status is
poorly known. Crow  reported that it is "neither an aggressive
colonizer that is characteristic of early successional species nor an
enduring shade-tolerant, slow-grower . . . typical of late successional
species." Even-aged stands are common; northern red oak is unable to
establish beneath its own canopy. Advanced regeneration provides a mode
by which northern red oak can reoccupy a site following disturbances
such as fire, wind damage, or herbivory. In most areas, advanced
regeneration persists for no more than a few years . Parker and
others  reported that some seedlings persisted for approximately 25
years despite repeated die-backs. These seedlings did not reach sapling
or pole size unless gaps were created in the forest canopy; most
ultimately died . Limited evidence suggests that northern red oak
may have maintained itself in some mature forests through gap-phase
replacement . Northern red oak is often replaced by more
shade-tolerant species such as sugar maple and American basswood [6,17].
The Upper Midwest: In parts of the Upper Midwest, northern red oak
dominates early seral to midseral stages following clearcutting but is
replaced by sugar maple and American basswood . Northern red oak
assumes prominence after early succession in which bigtooth aspen
(Populus grandidentata) dominates in upland pine-hardwood forests of
Michigan  and persists in some old-growth oak-hickory forests of
southern Michigan . Even-aged stands found in parts of the
Driftless Area may have originated after intense, stand-replacing fires
that began in nearby prairies and savannas. With frequent fires, sugar
maple forests are replaced by northern red oak stands .
New England: In New England, logging and slash fires in the late 1800's
and early 1900's replaced pine-hemlock forests with stands made up of
oak and maple . In central New England, where advance regeneration
is present prior to disturbance, northern red oak often assumes
dominance between 10 to 40 years after disturbance and often persists
for 100 years or more . Forests are often replaced by sugar maple,
red maple, or gray birch (Betula populifolia) [46,83].
Central Midwest: Northern red oak is present in old growth floodplain
forests of Illinois  and in "postclimax" stands on mesic sites in
Nebraska . In parts of Indiana, it is generally regarded as a
midseral to late seral species in mesophytic forests and is often
replaced by species such as sugar maple, Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra),
shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), American beech, and white ash in climax
Seed: Northern red oak generally first bears fruit at 25 years of age,
although most trees do not produce acorns in abundance until 50 years of
age . On extremely favorable sites trees as young as 10 years may
bear some fruit . Northern red oak produces good crops every 2 to 5
years . Yields vary by individual as well as with weather
conditions and site factors. Relatively large, dominant or codominant
individuals with open crowns typically produce more acorns than do trees
with small, restricted crowns. Trees with a 16 inch (41 cm) d.b.h. can
yield 800 acorns per year, and trees with a d.b.h. of 20 to 22 inches
(51-56 cm) can yield 1,600 acorns per year . Larger trees tended to
be less productive. Total acorn production may range from 100 to more
than 4,100 per tree . In a single year, northern red oak trees
produced a combined total of nearly 14,000 sound acorns per acre in a
mixed oak stand in southern Michigan . Cold, rainy weather during
flowering can result in poor seed production .
Under carefully controlled conditions, acorns can be stored for up to 2
or 3 years . After 52 months in storage, only a few acorns
remained viable. In good acorn years up to 80 percent of the crop is
commonly destroyed, and in poor years virtually the entire acorn crop
can be eliminated by birds, mammals, and insects .
Germination: Acorns of northern red oak are characterized by variable
dormancy which requires stratification for germination . Dormancy
varies by the individual seed , but northern seeds often require
longer stratification . Under natural conditions, acorns generally
germinate in the spring after dormancy is broken by over-wintering .
Delayed germination may occur but is very rare . Seeds can be
stratified at 35 to 41 degrees F (2-5 degrees C) for several months
Acorns germinate best in soil which is covered by a layer of leaf litter
. In one study, 80 percent of all planted acorns germinated
compared with less than 1 percent of acorns left on the soil surface.
Domestic animals such as pigs and cows may promote germination by
trampling the soil and "planting" the acorns, and by reducing competing
herbaceous vegetation . Seeds on the soil surface are particularly
vulnerable to rodent predation . In an Iowa study all seeds present
on top of the litter layer were destroyed by rodents compared with 68
percent of buried seeds .
Seed dispersal: Seeds of northern red oak are primarily dispersed by
birds and mammals. Scatter-hoarders such as the gray squirrel are
particularly important dispersal agents in some areas . Gray
squirrels bury as much as 19 percent of the available acorn crop and
fail to recover many seeds over the winter . Scatter-hoarders
typically disperse seed a few yards from the source tree. Mice and
chipmunks are short-distance dispersers and usually move seeds 33 to 98
feet (10-30 m) . Blue jays are effective long-distance dispersal
agents and can transport seed from several hundred yards to 2 or 3 miles
(4-5 km) [25,53,57]. Evidence suggests that blue jays prefer to cache
acorns on open sites or at forest margins . Gravity may aid in seed
Seedling establishment: Seedling establishment is generally limited to
years of abundant acorn production . However, advance regeneration
is usually present. In mature stands, seedlings may number up to 7,000
per acre (2,824/ha), but few survive more than a few years or grow to
more than 6 or 8 inches (15-20 cm) in height . Seedlings require
adequate soil moisture for survival and good early development .
Early growth may be reduced by a combination of shade, low soil
fertility, and competing herbaceous vegetation [60,61]. Shading alone
has little effect on initial seedling establishment .
Vegetative regeneration: Northern red oak commonly sprouts vigorously
after plants are damaged or killed by fire or mechanical injury .
Small poles, saplings, and even seedlings can sprout if cut or burned
. Although young oaks typically stump sprout more readily than do
older or larger individuals, northern red oaks up to 22 inches (56 cm)
in diameter have produced sprouts . Stump sprouts derived from
larger stems tend to grow faster than those derived from smaller,
damaged stems. Individuals 20 to 25 years of age regardless of size
produce an average of four or five sprouts .
Repeated sprouting is common in northern red oak ; many seedlings
die back to the ground level periodically. Seedling sprouts with root
collars up to 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter often develop after repeated
damage . After repeated fires, these stems may develop "stools" or
areas comprised of callus tissue filled with dormant buds. Seedlings
often develop an "s"-shaped curve at ground level which helps protect
dormant buds from fire . Cycles of dying back and sprouting can
result in crooked, flat-topped, or forked stems .
Root sprouting also occurs . Sprouts that develop at or below the
ground level are less likely to decay than are sprouts that develop
relatively high on the parent stump . Epicormic buds located
beneath the bark of older oaks commonly sprout when older trees are
damaged or after openings are created by heavy thinning [101,122].
Bud dormancy is largely controlled by auxins rather than by levels of
carbohydrate reserves . Apical dominance can restrict the
development of belowground buds when buds survive on aboveground
portions of the plant. Sprouting is reduced by low light levels 
and decreases as the stand ages . The number of sprout groups
decreases from poor to good sites . Initial sprout growth is
typically rapid .
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Reaction to Competition
Northern red oak responds well to release if the released trees are in the codominant or above average intermediate crown classes (11). The best response to thinning or release is obtained if the thinning or release is made before an even-aged stand containing northern red oak is 30 years old. Trees in well-stocked stands 30 years old and older generally have small, restricted crowns and are unable to make efficient use of the growing space provided by thinning or release (24). In Arkansas, 50-year-old released crop trees averaged a 40-percent increase in diameter growth over unreleased trees in the 10 years immediately following release. Although diameter growth increased the first year after release, the greatest responses occurred in years 5-10 when growth of the released trees averaged about 0.5 cm (0.2 in) annually and was about twice that of unreleased trees (11). Epicormic branching can be prolific on northern red oak following heavy thinning in stands older than about 30 years. Trees around the perimeter of openings created by harvesting may also develop many epicormic branches, because the boles of northern red oak in fully stocked stands contain numerous dormant buds. When the boles are suddenly exposed to greatly increased light, these buds begin to grow (27).
Life History and Behavior
More info for the term: natural
The timing of annual budbreak varies with the genetic composition of the
plant and with site characteristics such as elevation and soils [8,62].
Budbreak tends to be delayed at higher elevations  and on sites with
copper, lead, or zinc mineralized soil . Plants often undergo
relatively rapid vegetative growth from May through June . Episodic
or recurrent shoot growth, in which periods of shoot elongation
alternate with resting periods, can occur throughout the growing season
. Growth of leaves and roots is also often cyclic . However,
under natural conditions, seedlings typically produce a single flush of
leaves during a relatively short period of growth which often lasts only
2 to 3 weeks. The shoot becomes dormant during early summer despite
seemingly favorable growing conditions .
Flowering occurs in April or May, during or before leaf development
. Acorns require two seasons for development and ripen in September
and October . Phenological development by geographic area follows:
Area Flowering Fruit ripe Reference
Adirondacks May September 
Blue Ridge Mtns. April-May ---- 
WI May ---- 
NC,SC April August 
NC,SC May Sept.-Oct. 
Northern red oak stumps sprout more frequently than black oak or white oak stumps but about the same as scarlet and chestnut oak stumps (27). Sprouting frequency is related to parent tree size with more small stumps sprouting than large ones. Large stumps tend to produce more sprouts than small ones but by about age 20 to 25 the number of living sprouts per stump averages four or five regardless of parent tree or stump size. Northern red oak stump sprouts grow rapidly, averaging about 61 cm (24 in) or more annually for about 30 years (14). These stump sprouts can be a valuable component of new reproduction stands particularly if they originate at or near the ground line. Sprouts of low origin are much less likely to develop decay than sprouts that originate high on the stump (24), but they tend to develop severe crook or sweep at the base. Early clump thinning may be desirable to improve potential quality although it is not needed to maintain good growth.
Northern red oak acorn germination is hypogeal (30). It occurs during the spring following seedfall. Best germination occurs when the acorns are in contact with or buried in mineral soil and covered by a thin layer of leaf litter. Acorns on top of the leaf litter or mixed with litter generally dry excessively during early spring and lose their viability before temperatures are favorable for germination (24,28).
Although available soil moisture can be a critical factor affecting first year survival of northern red oak seedlings, it is usually adequate at the time acorns germinate. Germination is followed by vigorous and rapid taproot development, and if the taproot is able to penetrate the soil, seedlings survive considerable moisture stress later in the growing season. Northern red oak seedlings are less drought tolerant than white or black oak seedlings, however (24,31).
Light intensity appears to be the most critical factor affecting not only first year survival, but also survival and growth in subsequent years (20,28). Northern red oak reaches maximum photosynthesis at about 30 percent of the light intensity in the open (21). Light intensity under forest stands is often much lower, however, at about 15 cm (6 in) above the ground, where the new seedlings are competing. Light intensity at this level under forest stands in Missouri has been documented to be 10 percent or less of that in the open, a level too low to allow seedlings to survive and grow.
Once established under a forest stand, northern red oak seedlings seldom remain true seedlings for more than a few years. Conditions such as fire, poor light, poor moisture conditions, or animal activity kill the tops, but not the roots. One or more dormant buds near the root collar then produce new sprouts. This dieback and resprouting may occur several times; the result is a crooked, flat-topped, or forked stem. Such stems have root systems that may be from 10 to 15 years or more older than the tops (29).
Northern red oak shoot growth is episodic. When moisture, light, and temperature conditions are favorable, multiple shoot growth flushes will occur in the same growing season. The first flush is generally the longest and each flush is followed by a distinctive rest period. Most of the annual root elongation occurs during the rest periods (22).
Growth of northern red oak advance reproduction, seedlings, and sprouts is slow and generally restricted to one growth flush under undisturbed or lightly disturbed forest stands; at best it averages only a few centimeters annually (28).
Seed Production and Dissemination
Acorn production is highly variable among trees even in good seed years. Some trees are always poor producers while others are always good producers. Crown size seems to be the most important tree characteristic affecting acorn production. Dominant or codominant trees with large, uncrowded crowns produce more acorns than trees with small, restricted crowns (24).
Even in good years only about I percent of the acorns become available for regenerating northern red oak, and as many as 500 or more acorns may be required to produce one 1-year-old seedling. Many acorns are consumed by insects, squirrels, small rodents, deer, and turkey and other birds. They can eat or damage more than 80 percent of the acorn crop in most years and virtually 100 percent of the crop in very poor seed years (19,24,28). The large acorns are generally dispersed over only short distances. Gravity and the caching activities of squirrels and mice are the primary means of dispersal.
Flowering and Fruiting
Growth and Yield
Average diameter growth of northern red oak for a range of ages, sites, and stand conditions in the Central States is about 5 mm (0.2 in) annually (9). On good sites in the Appalachians, dominant and codominant northern red oaks in even-aged stands may attain average annual diameter growth rates of about 10 cm (0.4 in) and on average sites about 6 mm (0.25 in) by age 50 or 60 (32).
Growing space requirements are not known for northern red oak in pure stands, but average requirements have been developed for mixed oaks in even-aged stands. Competition for growing space begins when the available space in a stand is equal to the total of the maximum requirements of all the trees in the stand. This is the lowest level of stocking for full site utilization and is about 60 percent of full stocking. The minimum growing space for a tree 15.2 cm (6 in) in d.b.h. to survive averages about 8.5 m² (92 ft². If that tree is in the open or completely free from competition, the maximum amount of growing space it can use is 14.4 m² (155 ft² . For a tree 53.3 cm (21 in) in d.b.h., minimum and maximum growing spaces are 26.5 m² (285 ft² ) and 45.7 m² (492 ft²) respectively. Experience in using the stocking standards developed by Gingrich (8) indicates that a northern red oak tree requires less growing space than trees of other oak species with the same diameter (10, 18). How much less growing space is required has not been determined, however.
Yields of unthinned, 80-year-old oak stands in the Central States that contain northern red oak range from 75.6 m³/ha (5,400 fbm/acre) on site index 16.8 m (55 ft) sites (base age 50 years) to 175.0 m³/ha (12,500 fbm/acre) on site index 22.9 m (75 ft) sites. At age 70, oak stands that are first thinned at age 20 and then thinned regularly to the lowest level of stocking for full site utilization at about 10-year intervals will yield about 102.9 m³/ha (7,350 fbm/acre) on site index 16.8 m (55 ft) sites and about 278.3 m³/ha (19,880 fbm/acre) on site index 22.9 m (75 ft) sites (9). In southern Michigan, the average yields of 80-year-old unmanaged stands containing northern red oak ranged from 12.6 m³/ha (900 fbm/acre) to 3.5 m³/ha (250 fbm/acre) on poor sites and from 154.0 m³ (11,000 fbm/acre) to 280.0 m³ /ha (20,000 fbm/acre) on good sites (1).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Races The nomenclature for northern red oak was confused for some time. The scientific names Quercus borealis Michx. f. and Q. borealis var. maxima (Marsh.) Sarg. were adopted after 1915 by some authors, but in 1950, Quercus rubra L., the name in universal use before 1915, was restored (17).
Hybrids Northern red oak hybridizes readily with other species in the subgenus Erythrobalanus and the following hybrids have been named: Quercus x columnaris Laughlin (Q. palustris x rubra); Q. x fernaldii Trel. (Q. ilicifolia x rubra); Q. x heterophylla Michx. f. (Q. phellos x rubra); Q. x hawkinsiae Sudw. (Q. velutina x rubra); Q. x riparia Laughlin (Q. shumardii x rubra); and Q. x runcinata (A. DC.) Engelm. (Q. imbricaria x rubra).
Northern red oak also hybridizes with blackjack oak (Q. marilandica) and with northern pin oak (Q. ellipsoidalis) (17).
Barcode data: Quercus rubra
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Quercus rubra
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 7
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status, such as, state noxious status and wetland indicator values.
Silviculture: Northern red oak often regenerates poorly after timber
harvest. According to Loftis , "the preparatory and seed cuts of
the classical shelterwood will not be a part of the shelterwood sequence
to regenerate oaks, but rather, the cuttings applied in a shelterwood to
regenerate northern red oak should be considered removal cuts to exploit
the presence of small advanced oak reproduction, enhancing the
development of and finally, releasing advanced reproduction that is
already established." The presence of vigorous advanced regeneration is
essential for producing good stands of northern red oak after timber
harvest [5,21,85]. For adequate regeneration of oaks, advanced
regeneration of at least 4.5 feet (1.4 m) in height should number at
least 435 stems per acre (217/ha) prior to harvest . However,
Kittridge and Aston  reported that as few as 60 stems per acre
(24/ha) may be sufficient for oak regeneration in some areas.
A series of selection cuts can produce stands with several age classes
and can generate sufficient advanced regeneration for well-stocked,
postharvest stands . Initial cuts should reduce overstory densities
to no less than 60 percent stocking . Reduction of competing
understory species may also be necessary in some instances [7,100].
Prescriptions for regenerating northern red oak should include the
following: (1) control competing vegetation, (2) reduce overstory
density, (3) ensure adequate propagules, (4) manage for seedling
sprouts, and (5) remove overstory after seedling establishment .
Chemical control: Oaks often produce basal sprouts in response to
herbicide treatments . However, injections of glyphosate can kill
Mechanical treatments: Trees which have been cut often develop multiple
trunks . Approximately 9.9 sprouts per stump were reported 5 years
after trees were cut in Pennsylvania. Average sprout numbers declined
to 1.1 per acre 35 years after cutting . Sprouts derived from cut
stumps are often more vigorous than those which have developed as a
result of fire or herbivory .
Insects/disease: Northern red oak is susceptible to several diseases
including oak wilt and oak decline . Oak decline is particularly
serious and has affected northern red oak throughout much of the central
Appalachian region . The gypsy moth and numerous other insects can
attack northern red oak, occasionally causing serious damage [41,101].
Damage: Northern red oak is resistant to windthrow .
Environmental considerations: Northern red oak is resistant to ozone
Wildlife considerations: Increases in bear damage to crops, livestock,
and beehives has been noted in years of poor acorn crops . Acorn
production for wildlife can be increased by selective thinning and by
protecting large oaks .
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
These plant materials are somewhat available from commercial sources. Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”
The tight, relatively thin bark of northern red oak makes the trees more susceptible to fire damage than in species of oak with rougher, corkier bark. Apart from immediate mortality, damaged basal cambial tissue permits the entry of insects and heart-rot decay that may ultimately kill the tree. Even so, northern red oak is adapted to periodic fire, which is integrally associated with oak forests. Older, larger individuals often survive fire and seedlings, saplings, and pole-sized individuals commonly sprout vigorously from the stumps or root collar after being top-killed by fire. Increased fire suppression has favored more shade-tolerant hardwoods and resulted in a decrease in oaks.
Acorns can maintain viability in controlled storage for up to 2–3 years. They should be stratified at 1-3 C for several months; those from northern populations require the longer period. Growth is best when sown as soon as ripe into permanent position or in an outdoor seedbed protected from predation. Cuttings obtained from young trees can be rooted if treated with hormones. Transplants of bare root stock are best done in spring. Because of its usefulness and popularity, northern red oak is commonly available in ball-and-burlap and in containers.
The gypsy moth and numerous other insects can attack northern red oak, occasionally causing serious damage. Numerous caterpillars enjoy oak foliage, but feeding damage is usually not severe. Oak decline is a serious disease of northern red oak and has affected the species throughout much of the central Appalachian region.
Northern red oak is susceptible to oak wilt, a fungal disease that invades the water-conducting vessels and plugs them. As water movement is slowed, the leaves wilt and rapidly drop off the tree. The disease begins with a crinkling and paling of the leaves, followed by wilting and browning from the margins inward. Necrosis may be strongest along the veins or between them. The symptoms move down branches toward the center of the tree and the tree may die within 1–3 months, although some diseased trees may survive up to a year. The disease may be spread by insects (primarily beetles) or pruning tools, but most of the tree loss in oak wilt centers results from transmission through root spread between adjoining trees. A trench (dug and then immediately filled) between neighboring trees severs the roots and prevents fungus spread. Dead and infected trees must be destroyed – once a tree has become infected, there is little chance to save it. The wood may be used for firewood provided it is debarked or covered and sealed during the spring and summer (Johnson and Appel 2000; Roberts 2000; Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources 2000; City of Austin 2000).
This disease most seriously infects species of the red oak group (including black and live oaks). Overcup oak, bur oak, white oak, and other members of the white oak group are not as susceptible and can be planted in oak wilt centers. Oak wilt has reached epidemic proportions in Texas and in the mid-West from Iowa and Minnesota through Michigan and Wisconsin into Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Other uses and values
The acorns of many species of oak (Quercus spp.) were traditionally an
important food source for Native American peoples . Acorns of red
oak were leached with ashes to remove bitter tannins and then used in
various foods by many Native American peoples. Preparations made from
the bark were used to treat bowel problems .
Northern red oak was first cultivated in 1724  and is a popular
ornamental shade tree in eastern North America and in parts of Europe
Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites
unproductive environments, including certain acidic sites [16,60], and
can be used in various rehabilitation projects. Northern red oak has
been successfully planted onto coal mine spoils in Ohio, Indiana,
Illinois, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania [4,16,66,89,123].
Plants can be propagated by several methods, including (1) transplanting
bareroot stock, (2) planting acorns in tubes, and (3) direct seeding.
Best survival of bareroot stock has been reported after spring planting
(90 percent survival compared to 50 percent survival after fall
planting) . Direct seeding is the fastest and cheapest propagation
method and can be effective if few seed predators are present [114,115].
Cuttings obtained from young trees often root if properly treated with
Northern red oak provides good cover for a wide variety of birds and
mammals. Young oaks with low branches serve as particularly good winter
cover. Oak leaves often persist longer than those of many of its plant
associates and in some areas, young oaks may represent the only brushy
winter cover in dense pole stands . Oaks frequently serve as
perching or nesting sites for various songbirds . Many cavity
nesters, such as the red-bellied and hairy woodpecker, utilize northern
red oak . The well-developed crowns of oaks provide shelter and
hiding cover for tree squirrels and other small mammals. Many birds and
mammals use twigs and leaves as nesting materials . Large oaks
provide denning sites for a variety of mammals .
digestibility for deer . The nutrient content of northern red oak
browse has been reported as follows :
Crude Ether Crude N-free
Dry matter % protein % extract % fiber % extract %
33.3 13.27 2.15 23.88 55.37
Acorns: Northern red oak acorns are relatively low in protein,
phosphorous and crude fiber but are a good source of metabolizable
energy, starches, sugars, and fat [90,95,107,126]. One pound of
northern red oak acorns contains approximately 1,300 calories .
Crude available protein of northern red oak acorns has been estimated at
4.6 to 5.92 percent . Smith and Follmer  reported that
northern red oak acorns exhibit relatively high tannin levels (6
percent). Other studies have reported tannin levels ranging from 4.34
to 15.90 percent [15,126,127].
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
Browse: White-tailed deer commonly browse leaves and young seedlings
[81,119]. Telfer  reported that deer browsed only 2.8 percent of
northern red oak in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. However, in feeding
trials in New Hampshire, northern red oak leaves comprised 15 to 30
percent dry matter of deer diets . Elk, hares, cottontail rabbits,
and moose also feed on northern red oak browse [116,119]. Pocket
gophers occasionally feed on the roots of seedlings .
Acorns: Mammals - The white-footed mouse, eastern chipmunk, fox
squirrel, gray squirrel, red squirrel, white-tailed deer, flying
squirrels, and deer mice consume northern red oak acorns [15,111,119].
In a New Hampshire feeding trial, northern red oak acorns made up 5 to
55 percent (composition dry matter) of deer diets . Acorns of the
northern red oak are a preferred fall and winter food of the gray
squirrel [40,65]. Domestic hogs also eat large quantities of northern
red oak acorns where available . Acorns are an important fall food
source for the black bear [31,97]. The abundance of fall mast crops can
affect black bear reproductive success during the following year .
Birds - Acorns of the northern red oak are an important food source the
bobwhite, red-headed woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, blue jay,
tufted titmouse, grackle, white-breasted nuthatch, sapsuckers, quail,
ruffed grouse, and other birds [111,119]. They represent a particularly
important food source for the wild turkey. A single turkey can consume
more than 221 acorns at a "single meal" . Other birds that feed on
acorns include the ruffed grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, ring-necked
pheasant, wild turkey, eastern crow, northern flicker, grackle, blue
jay, brown thrasher, tufted titmouse, starling, lesser prairie chicken,
chickadees, nuthatches, and other songbirds. Acorns are also important
food sources for various waterfowl such as the golden-eye, gadwall, wood
duck, hooded merganser, mallard, American pintail, black duck, redhead,
and green-winged teal [74,119]. Sprouted acorns are readily eaten by
deer, mice, and the northern bobwhite .
Wood Products Value
Northern red oak is an important source of hardwood lumber [20,73]. Its
wood is heavy, hard, strong, coarse-grained, and at least moderately
durable . When properly dried and treated, oak wood glues well,
machines very well, and accepts a variety of finishes . The wood of
northern red oak has been used to make railroad ties, fenceposts,
veneer, furniture, cabinets, paneling, flooring, caskets, and pulpwood
[76,87]. Northern red oak has a high fuel value and is an excellent
high for domestic livestock and for many wildlife species. Eastern oaks
are preferred by white-tailed deer in some locations . New growth
is particularly palatable to deer and rabbits .
Acorns: Acorns of the northern red oak are highly palatable to many
birds and mammals. Northern red oak acorns appear to be less palatable
to the white-footed mouse than are white oak acorns . Studies
indicate that relatively high tannin levels may impart a bitter taste
and decrease palatability as compared with acorns from other species of
oak [108,127]. However, gray squirrels prefer northern red oak acorns
to the acorns of other oaks .
The acorns are an important food for squirrels deer, turkey, mice, voles, and other mammals and birds.
Industry: Northern red oak is an important source of hardwood lumber. The wood is close-grained, heavy, and hard; it machines well and accepts a variety of finishes. It is used for furniture, veneer, interior finishing, cabinets, paneling, and flooring as well as for agricultural implements, posts, and railway ties.
Wildlife: Northern red oak provides good cover and nesting sites (including cavities) for a wide variety of birds and mammals. Deer, elk, moose, and rabbits commonly browse leaves and young seedlings and the acorns are eaten by a wide variety of large and small mammals and birds.
Ethnobotanic: The acorns of red oak (and other oak species) were an important food source for Native Americans. To remove bitter tannins, they were boiled, leached with ashes, soaked for days in water, or buried over winter. Some tribes used red oak bark as a medicine for heart troubles and bronchial infections or as an astringent, disinfectant, and cleanser.
Conservation: Northern red oak is commonly planted as a landscape tree in eastern North America and Europe -- used as a shade tree on lawns, parks, campuses, golf courses, etc, where space is sufficient. It is fast growing, easy to transplant, tolerant of urban conditions (including dry and acidic soil and air pollution), the abundant nuts attract wildlife, and the leaves develop a brick-red fall color. It has been used in various rehabilitation projects, including revegetation of coal mine spoils in states of the east central United States (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania).
Quercus rubra, commonly called northern red oak or champion oak, (syn. Quercus borealis), is an oak in the red oak group (Quercus section Lobatae). It is a native of North America, in the northeastern United States and southeast Canada. It grows from the north end of the Great Lakes, east to Nova Scotia, south as far as Georgia and states with good soil that is slightly acidic. Often simply called "red oak", northern red oak is formally so named to distinguish it from southern red oak (Q. falcata), also known as the Spanish oak. It is also the state tree of New Jersey and the provincial tree of Prince Edward Island.
In many forests, this deciduous tree grows straight and tall, to 28 m (90 ft), exceptionally to 43 m (140 ft) tall, with a trunk of up to 50–100 cm (20–40 in) diameter. Open-grown trees do not get as tall, but can develop a stouter trunk, up to 2 m (6 ft) in diameter. It has stout branches growing at right angles to the stem, forming a narrow round-topped head. It grows rapidly and is tolerant of many soils and varied situations, although it prefers the glacial drift and well-drained borders of streams. It is frequently a part of the canopy in an oak-heath forest, but generally not as important as some other oaks.
Under optimal conditions, northern red oak is fast growing and a 10-year-old tree can be 5–6 m (15–20 ft) tall. Trees may live up to 500 years according to the USDA, and a living example of 326 years was noted in 2001 by Orwig et al.
Northern red oak is easy to recognize by its bark, which feature bark ridges that appear to have shiny stripes down the center. A few other oaks have bark with this kind of appearance in the upper tree, but the northern red oak is the only tree with the striping all the way down the trunk.
- Bark:Dark reddish grey brown, with broad, thin, rounded ridges, scaly. On young trees and large stems, smooth and light gray. Rich in tannic acid. Branchlets slender, at first bright green, shining, then dark red, finally dark brown. Bark is brownish gray, becoming dark brown on old trees.
- Wood: Pale reddish brown, sapwood darker, heavy, hard, strong, coarse-grained. Cracks in drying, but when carefully treated could be successfully used for furniture. Also used in construction and for interior finish of houses. Sp. gr., 0.6621; weight of cu. ft., 41.25 lbs.
- Winter buds: Dark chestnut brown (reddish brown), ovate, acute, generally 6 mm long
- Leaves: Alternate, seven to nine-lobed, oblong-ovate to oblong, five to ten inches long, four to six inches broad; seven to eleven lobes tapering gradually from broad bases, acute, and usually repandly dentate and terminating with long bristle-pointed teeth; the second pair of lobes from apex are largest; midrib and primary veins conspicuous. Lobes are less deeply cut than most other oaks of the red oak group (except for black oak which can be similar). Leaves emerge from the bud convolute, pink, covered with soft silky down above, coated with thick white tomentum below. When full grown are dark green and smooth, sometimes shining above, yellow green, smooth or hairy on the axils of the veins below. In autumn they turn a rich red, sometimes brown. Often the petiole and midvein are a rich red color in midsummer and early autumn, though this is not true of all red oaks. The acorns mature in about 18 months after pollination; solitary or in pairs, sessile or stalked; nut oblong-ovoid with broad flat base, full, with acute apex, one half to one and one-fourth of an inch long, first green, maturing nut-brown; cup, saucer-shaped and shallow, 2 cm (0.8 in) wide, usually covering only the base, sometimes one-fourth of the nut, thick, shallow, reddish brown, somewhat downy within, covered with thin imbricated reddish brown scales. Its kernel is white and very bitter. Despite this bitterness, they are eaten by deer, squirrels and birds.
Red oak acorns, unlike the white oak group, display epigeal dormancy and will not germinate without a minimum of three months' exposure to sub-40°F (4°C) temperatures. They also take two years of growing on the tree before development is completed.
The northern red oak is one of the most important oaks for timber production in North America. Quality red oak is of high value as lumber and veneer, while defective logs are used as firewood. Other related oaks are also cut and marketed as red oak, although their wood is not always of as high a quality. These include eastern black oak, scarlet oak, pin oak, Shumard oak, southern red oak and other species in the red oak group. Construction uses include flooring, veneer, interior trim, and furniture. It is also used for lumber, railroad ties, and fence posts.
Red oak wood grain is so open that smoke can be blown through it from end-grain to end-grain on a flat-sawn board. For this reason, it is subject to moisture infiltration and is unsuitable for outdoor uses such as boatbuilding or exterior trim.
Q. rubra is grown in parks and large gardens as a specimen tree.
- Ashford Oak - A very large Northern Red Oak in Ashford, Connecticut. The tree has suffered falling limbs because of its great age. However, this tree is still a sight to behold; the trunk is 8 m (26 feet) in circumference and the root-knees are also particularly impressive. The oak is located on Giant Oak Lane off U.S. Highway 44. There are several other large oaks in the area.
- Chase Creek Red Oak - This forest tree is located on a very rich steep slope in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. It is a high-stump coppice with three leads. It was the state champion oak in Maryland in 2002. The circumference at breast height is 6.7 m (22 feet), the height 41.5 m (136 feet) and the spread 29.9 m (98 feet)
- Shera-Blair Red Oak - This majestic red oak tree is located on Shelby Street in the South Frankfort neighborhood in Franklin County, Kentucky, and is the largest red oak tree in the oldest neighborhood in Frankfort, Kentucky. It is in the backyard of a house built in 1914 by architect Arthur Raymond Smith, who at one time worked for D.X. Murphy & Bros., famed architects that designed the twin spires at Churchill Downs. The circumference at breast height is 6.4 m (21 feet), with the trunk reaching higher than 40 feet before the branches begin and an estimated height of 130 feet.
- NatureServe (2006), "Quercus rubra", NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life, Version 6.1., Arlington, retrieved 2007-06-13
- Keeler, Harriet L. (1900). Our Native Trees and How to Identify Them. New Roak: Charles Scriber's Sons. pp. 349–354.
- The Natural Communities of Virginia Classification of Ecological Community Groups (Version 2.3), Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, 2010
- Schafale, M. P. and A. S. Weakley. 1990. Classification of the natural communities of North Carolina: third approximation. North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.
- Eastern US oldlist
- "RHS Plant Selector - Quercus rubra". Retrieved 27 June 2013.
- Rucker, Colby B. (February 2004), Great Eastern Trees, Past and Present, retrieved 2007-05-05
Native Americans used Quercus rubra for a number of medical purposes, including the treatment of sores, weakness, lung problems, sore throat, dysentery, indigestion, chapped skin, chills and fevers, lost voice, asthma, cough, milky urine, hear trouble, blood diseases, and Italian itch, and as an appetizer (D. E. Moerman 1986).
Quercus rubra reportedly hybridizes with Q . coccinea (= Q . × benderi Baenitz) and Q . ellipsoidalis (P. C. Swain 1972; R. J. Jensen et al. 1993); with Q . ilicifolia (= Q . × fernaldii Trelease), Q . imbricaria [ Q . × runcinata (A. de Candolle) Engelmann], and Q . marilandica (E. J. Palmer 1948; D. M. Hunt 1989); with Q . nigra (D. M. Hunt 1989); and with Q . palustris (= Q . × columnaris Laughlin), Q . phellos (= Q . × heterophylla F. Michaux), Q . shumardii (= Q . × riparia Laughlin), and Q . velutina (= Q . × hawkinsii Sudworth).
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Kartesz (1999) recognizes Quercus rubra var. ambigua as a distinct taxon while Flora North America vol. 3 does not, further still, Flora North America vol. 3 does not even mention this taxon in synonymy or in the species description for Q. rubra.
Northern red oak is a member of the red oak-black oak subgenus
(Erythrobalanus) within the order Fagales . The currently accepted
scientific name of northern red oak is Quercus rubra L. . The
epithet Q. rubra was formerly applied to several species of oak
including the southern red oak (Q. falcata) [13,69]. Some later
taxonomists rejected the appellation Q. rubra because of past ambiguity
and in 1915 identified northern red oak as Q. borealis [69,101]. In
1950, the name Q. rubra was restored . Most current authorities
prefer the epithet Q. rubra, although Q. borealis is still occasionally
encountered in the literature. The following varieties are commonly
Quercus rubra var. borealis (Michx. f.) Farw.
Quercus rubra var. rubra
Northern red oak hybridizes with many oaks including scarlet oak (Q.
coccinea), shingle oak (Q. imbricata), swamp oak (Q. palustris), willow
oak (Q. phellos), scrub oak (Q. ilicifolia), northern pin oak (Q.
ellipsoidalis), black oak (Q. velutina), blackjack oak (Q. marilandica)
and Shumard oak (Q. shumardii) [69,93,101]. The following hybrid
products have been identified:
Q. X runcinata (A. DC.) Engelm. (Q. imbricata x Q. rubra)
Q. X heterophylla (Michx. f.) (Q. phellos x Q. rubra)
Q. X hawkinsiae Sudw. (Q. rubra x Q. velutina)
Q. X riparia Laughlin (Q. shumardii x Q. rubra)
Q. X columnaris Laughlin (Q. palustris x Q. rubra)
Q. X fernaldii (Q. ilicifolia x Q. rubra)
Querucs borealis Michx. f. var. maxima (Marsh.) Sarg.
Quercus maxima (Marsh.) Ashe
common red oak
eastern red oak
mountain red oak
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