Northern Red Oak

Important ID info: it’s a tall tree with green leaves.

What is it? Northern Red Oak, a large deciduous tree that is found from the Midwest down to northern Mississippi and up through New England. Also the second tallest of five trees in my yard.

What do the nerds call it? Quercus rubra

Who is it related to? Fagaceae family, or the Beech and Oak family.

Think short and stubby for a red oak acorn.

How can you tell it is what it is? The red oak has lobed leafs that are similar to what you might think of as a classic oak leaf shape, with 4-5 lobes on each half of the leaf. A big difference with red oak leaves is that the tips of each lobe are pointed instead of rounded, as well as overall being generally thin and smooth. In the fall, the leaves turn a bright red color, and hold onto this color a little longer than some other trees.

The bark can have a somewhat zebra-striped look to it, as the bark develops deep vertical ridges as it ages and cracks. The tops of the ridges can apparently look silvery when the light hits it, which contrasts with the dull, dark valleys in between. This is what some websites say at least. I really can’t tell. Brown bark still looks like brown bark to me.

An acorn of the red oak is going to have a shallower cap, or cup, than other species of oak.

The pointed tips on each lobe and the vertical cracks are a good indication of a red oak.

Discussion: Red oak is one of the first hardwoods that I became antiquated with when I started woodworking at home. It was relatively cheap, abundant, and had a pretty reddish hue to it, though I prefer its counterpart white oak these days.

The acorns that red oaks make is an icon of fall, and a very important food source for wildlife. They are bitter tasting to squirrels and deer, but they stick around for awhile, so get picked up when other food sources run out. Birds such as blue jays love them, and one of the main dispersal methods for the oak is the forgotten stashes the jays make each fall. The acorns can be eaten by humans also, but it is advised to leech the tannins out first (trust me, I’ve tried one), an experiment I am looking forward to this fall.

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