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Pin Oak vs Scarlet Oak

These plants are frequently confused, especially when used as landscaping plants, because both have deeply-cut leaves. Wild plants have almost opposite habitat preferences and rarely occur together. Pruning of landscaping plants can also make ID difficult by obscuring shape. Plants can be easily distinguished by acorns, and with more effort, by pubescence on buds and leaf shape.

Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)

Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)

A red oak of bottomland areas, with a large, heavy central trunk and abundant, small side branches.
A large, fast-growing, short-lived red oak of dry upland sites, named for the dark red color of its fall foliage.
Sinuses between lobes more U-shaped, with lobes usually not closing the curve as far. Lobe tips often pointing close to the same direction within each lobe. 5-7 lobes, 10-30 bristles/awns on lobe tips.
Photo © Claire Secrist, Public Domain.
Sinuses between lobes more C-shaped, with lobes usually closing or completing more of a circle. Lobe tips curve away from each other more within each lobe. 5-9 lobes, 18-50 bristles/awns on lobe tips.
Photo © Michael Ellis, CC BY 4.0.
Lower branches strongly descending, middle branches horizontal, upper branches ascending. Slow to self-prune. Numerous small lower branches remain on trees after dying, often for years.
Photo © Katja Schulz, CC BY 4.0.
Self-prunes more readily, although it may retain larger dead branches. Trees in forests may have no branches until the canopy. When lower branches are present, not usually as strongly descending.
Photo © Katja Schulz, CC BY 4.0.
Very small acorns, 10-16 long and 9-15 mm wide, often look stout. Cap thin and saucer-shaped, only covers a small amount of the acorn.
Photo © Ron Burkert, CC BY 4.0.
Acorns also small, 12-22mm long and 10-21 mm wide, often longer than wide. Cup-shaped cap covers about half the acorn and can be quite thick. Acorns have one or more rings of fine pits at the apex.
Photo © Chris Kratzer, CC BY-SA 4.0.
Buds average slightly smaller (3-5mm), reddish brown, hairless or with only a few fine hairs at the tip. Not as sharply angular.
Photo © , CC BY-SA 4.0.
Buds average slightly larger (4-7mm), variably pubescent, but usually pubescent at the tip and not at the base, and 5-angled in cross-section.
Photo © Doug Goldman, CC BY 4.0.