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Bear Oak vs Blackjack Oak

Bear oak and blackjack oak can be confused as both can occur together in harsh, barren habitats, and in such habitats blackjack oak may exhibit a scrubbier growth habit more like bear oak. They are usually easily distinguished by differences in leaf shape, buds, acorn caps, and growth habit. Their ranges only overlap in a small portion of the Mid-Atlantic and mid-to-southern Appalachians; bear oak ranges farther north and blackjack oak farther south and west.

Bear Oak (Quercus ilicifolia)

Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica)

A small, shrubby oak, typically inhabiting harsh habitats, such as fire-prone barrens or rock outcroppings, where large trees cannot grow.
An oak, native to eastern North America, adapted to extreme, nutrient-poor sites that burn regularly.
Leaves usually have 3-7 lobes. Lobes are slightly more deeply-cut, with more typical oak shape. More likely to have lobes near the base of each leaf.
Photo © Laura, CC BY 4.0.
Leaves atypically shaped for an oak, usually with 3-5 lobes, often wedge-shaped overall with broad, flat-across tip and narrow base. Three lobes at the tip of leaf are not deeply-cut, sometimes straight-across. Often lacks lobes at the base of each leaf.
Photo © Even Dankowicz, CC BY 4.0.
More sprawling, shrubby growth habit, often with multiple trunks, usually growing horizontally.
Photo © ttadevosyan, CC BY 4.0.
More tree-like growth habit, often with a single, upright trunk, sometimes growing into a large tree.
Photo © Leila Dasher, CC BY 4.0.
Acorn cap covers 1/3rd to 1/4 the cup, less on average. Acorn cap has flatter base. Acorns average smaller, but size is variable and overlaps.
Photo © Doug Goldman, CC BY 4.0.
Acorn cap usually covers about 1/3rd the cup, more on average. Acorn cap more tapered at the base. Acorns average larger, but size is variable and overlaps.
Photo © tallpaultheforester, CC BY-SA 4.0.
Terminal buds much smaller, 2-4.5mm long, reddish brown, usually less pubescent to where the underlying brown color is more visible, less visibly angular.
Photo © Doug Goldman, CC BY 4.0.
Terminal buds much larger, 10-15mm long, pubescent throughout to the point of appearing lighter in color, strongly 5-angled in cross-section.
Photo © Alex Zorach, CC BY-SA 4.0.
Leaf undersides covered in dense, matted hairs, appearing pale in color, contrasting greatly with darker green tops of leaves.
Photo © Doug Goldman, CC BY 4.0.
Leaf undersides scaly, crusty-granular, or with scattered hairs. Only slightly lighter in color than tops of leaves.
Photo © Becky, Public Domain.