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What is a Nuttall Oak?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2016
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The Nuttall oak is a tree native to the Mississippi delta. Named for famed botanist Thomas Nuttall, the species was not distinguished from its near relatives, several other species of local oaks, until 1927. Confusion still seems to surround the exact name and species of this particular tree, with many gardening authorities giving contradictory information.

Depending on which authority is consulted, the tree is known officially either as Quercus texana or Quercus nuttallii. The species was first separated out from its nearby cousins by Ernest Jesse Palmer, an American botanist and taxidermist, who named the tree for the greatly admired 19th century naturalist, Thomas Nuttall. Lumber from the tree is often marketed as red oak, while common names for it include red river oak and pin oak, but these names are used to describe other species as well.

The Nuttall oak is generally found in riverbeds or alongside streams in the humid deltas of the American South. While it generally avoids true swamps, the tree grows best in consistently damp soil that has a strong clay component. It prefers poor drainage, and can happily endure high humidity.

At maturity, the tree can be quite impressive, stretching up to 100 ft (30.4 m) high with a substantial crown. While growing, it can climb up to 2 ft (.6 m) per year. The shape of the tree is generally irregular, with a large, central trunk and a multitude of horizontal branches covered with leaves.

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The leaves of the Nuttall oak are quite large, with deeply indented lobes. During spring and summer, the leaves are a pale green color, turning a brilliant scarlet red in the fall. A deciduous tree, the Nuttall oak drops most of its leaves in late autumn, regrowing a new crop when spring is on the move.

In addition to being prized for wood, the Nuttall oak is an important part of the forest ecosystem throughout its native range. The commodious branches provide squirrels, chipmunks, and other small creatures with shelter and weather protection. The tree also drops acorns, which serve as a food source for small animals and even larger creatures such as deer.

Though at home in the forest, the Nuttall oak makes an excellent residential tree. Roots are noted for non-invasive growth, meaning they are generally safe for planting alongside sidewalks and roadways. The generous crop of leaves makes an excellent display throughout most of the year. Tolerant of many climates and in need of little care, the Nuttall oak is an excellent way to add greenery to towns, homes, and residential districts.

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