What is a Red Oak Tree?

Dee S.
Dee S.

The red oak tree comes in several different species. Each species varies according to its native habitat and its description. The Northern red oak, Texas red oak, Southern red oak, and Mexican red oak are among the most popular in this family. The Northern red oak, as the name implies, is commonly found in Eastern North America, while the Texas and Southern red oaks are found across the south. The Mexican red oak is one of the most popular trees in Mexico.

Red oak trees shed their acorns in autumn.
Red oak trees shed their acorns in autumn.

The scientific name of the Northern red oak tree is Quercus rubra. As previously mentioned it is common in the northeastern portion of the United States, but can be found as far south as Georgia. It is also native to the southeastern providences of Canada – and as far east as Nova Scotia. It is a deciduous tree that can grow from 50 to 140 feet (15.2 - 42.7 m) in height with a trunk that can reach three (.9 m) to six feet (1.8 m) and has a spread of 50 to 75 feet (15.2 – 22.9 m). If it is growing in the wild, it will be on larger side of the spectrum.

The Northern red oak tree grows fast and will survive in a variety of soil conditions; however, it prefers to be near stream or river beds. It is a low maintenance tree and can live up to 500 years in the best conditions. The tell-tale sign that a tree is a Northern red oak tree is through a close inspection of its bark. The bark on the entire trunk has ridges with stripes that appear nearly shiny down the center.

The leaves of the Northern red oak tree are dark green in color with a gray tinge underneath. Each leaf has seven to 11 tips that are pointed sharply and turn reddish-brown during the fall months. Although acorns may not appear in abundance until the tree is nearly 40, the tree will shed its share of them in the autumn. The acorns are usually about 1 inch (2.54 cm) long and round in shape with a flat cap.

The Texas red oak, also known as the Quercus buckleyi or the Spanish Oak is loved for its tolerance to drought and heat. Smaller than the Northern red oak, it will usually grow to 30 or 40 feet (9.1 – 12.2 m) high with an equal span for its width. The bark is tinged red and appears to have scales, similar to a lizard. The dark green leaves of the Texas red oak are about three inches (7.6 cm) wide with five to seven points. The acorns have dark stripes and are about an inch (2.54 cm) in length.

The Southern red oak, also called the Quercus falcate, will grow to be about 80 feet (24.4 m) tall. The bark does not have the deep ridges like the Northern red oak and is usually gray in color. Each leaf is shaped like a pear and has sharp points, like the other red oaks. The acorns on the Southern red oak are small, only ½ inch (1.2 cm) long and much thinner than the others. The wood is often used for lumber because it is very strong.

The Mexican red oak or Quercus canbyi can reach heights up to 60 feet (18.3 m). The foliage is described as tardily deciduous; in fact, some have referred to it as evergreen because it holds its leaves nearly the entire year. Any new growth is red in color and it turns a rich red in the fall months. The leaves are finer in texture and have some toothing or points. It is also a hardy species of tree.

Dee S.
Dee S.

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to wiseGEEK.

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Discussion Comments


How can you tell the difference between different kinds of oak trees? I have a huge old tree in my backyard, and although I know its an oak, I really can't figure out which kind.

I've looked at a lot of oak tree pictures, and I think I've got it narrowed down to a red oak tree, a pin oak, or a chestnut oak.

So is there a way to figure out what kind of oak tree this is? Can somebody tell me how to differentiate between these three types of oaks? I've even gone so far as to take some red oak tree pictures out next to the tree and try to figure it out, but I'm just not sure.

Any tips or input?


Can you give me some more information about Northern Red Oak trees? I have a project for my biology class on northern red oak tree facts, and I'm kind of coming up dry.

All I can seem to find are the same five facts, over and over again. There's tons of northern red oak pictures out there, but just not too many facts beyond the scientific name, the type of soil it likes, how tall they normally get, etc.

Do you guys have an article specifically on northern red oak trees, or are there any tree fans among the readers that could help me out? I would be totally grateful for any additional information; this whole project is killing me!


What can you tell me about the red oak tree growth rate?

I'm considering transplanting some red oak trees into my yard to balance out all the maple trees, so I'm trying to find out all the red oak tree information that I can before I commit to buying the trees.

I live in a reasonably dry area, so I'm thinking that this would be a fairly good species for my land, but I really don't want a tree that's going to take ages upon ages to grow. I need some good shade now, not in 50 years!

So how fast does the average red oak tree grow? And do you think that this would be a good choice for a fairly dry land area? Thanks for the information!

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