Skip to content

Tree 16: Red Oak

Latin name: Quercus rubra
Family: Fagaceae
Other names: Northern Red Oak, Champion Oak
Origin: North America
Height: up: to 25 metres
Lifespan: up to 400 years
Autumn leaf loss: Deciduous
Gender Type: Monoecious (Male and female flowers on same tree)

The Northern Red Oak is one of approximately 500 species of oak trees that grow worldwide. It is native to North America, where there is a variety of red oak species, Quercus rubra being the most common. It is a fast-growing deciduous tree, planted in Britain mostly as an ornamental tree for its flaming Autumn colour. In other parts of Europe, where, over the past few centuries, it has been planted as a fast-growing source of timber, the Northern Red Oak has naturalised and is viewed as invasive. In North America, though, its characteristics as a strong, hard wood (if somewhat less hard than the English or Sessile oaks), have seen it valued across a range of commercial uses. It has, for example, been a popular building material and is used widely in furniture making.

Like all oak trees, the Red Oak produces acorns, a nut that usually contains one seed inside a leathery shell that sit on a cup made of overlapping scales. The Northern Red oak acorns take two years to mature and can be seen on trees in winter, whereas the English oak and Sessile oak acorns ripen and fall within the year they are produced. The Red Oak leaves are variable in size but can be twice as large as our native oak’s leaves. They are the familiar oak shape, but lobes are more deeply cut and are more pointed. In the Autumn when they turn a glorious range of red colours, these leaves are great for making simple leaf sculpture patterns.

Can you spot the little red oak memorial trees planted nearby in Whirlow Brook Park?