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Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

Also known as red oak; also classified as Quercus borealis.

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Summary

A large tree and one of the major components of the forests of eastern North America, the northern red oak has a wider range than its name may suggest, extending quite far into the "deep south", but also covering a large portion of the northeastern U.S. and into Canada.

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Native

This tentative map is based on the FHWA's ERA. This data lacks information on Canada, but also overestimates native ranges, especially around the edges, as this post explains. We have not yet reviewed or fixed this map.

USDA Plants Profile for Quercus rubra

Illinois Wildflowers Page for Quercus rubra

Similar Plants

Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)
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Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)
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Jack Oak (Quercus ellipsoidalis)
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Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
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Black Oak (Quercus velutina)
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Habitat

Found in a variety of mesic to dry-mesic sites, including rich, mesic woods, rocky outcroppings, sandy areas, and the drier, outer margins of floodplains. Found on a range of soil types, including clay, loam, sandy, and gravely soils, ranging from rocky and shallow to deep and free of rocks.

Inhabits climates with growing seasons ranging from 100 to 220 days.

Slightly less fire-tolerant than most oaks, but still exhibits many adaptations to fire and tends to be replaced or removed from forests that never burn.

Life Cycle

Seeds germinate in spring, after a period of cold dormancy, and germinate underground, usually after being buried by squirrels or other animals. Dormancy requirements can vary by individual acorn, but is rarely delayed longer than one winter season. Germination is best when covered by leaf litter, and is very poor on the surface.

As with many oaks, seedlings often die back to the ground but their root system remains alive.

Trees usually begin producing seed at around 25 years of age, rarely as soon as 10 on favorable sites, although seed production is usually sparse until trees reach about 50 years old. Good seed crops are produced every 2-5 years. Flowers are wind-pollinated, and cold, rainy weather during flowering can reduce seed production.

In years of low seed production, the entire seed crop is typically consumed by animals; reproduction usually only occurs in years of peak seed production.

Trees, especially younger ones, can resprout in response to fire or mechanical damage.

Faunal Associations

The large acorns are eaten by squirrels and other mammals, as well as larger birds.

Uses

Frequently used in landscaping as a large shade tree, and occasionally as a street tree. Valued for being easy to grow and tolerating pollution and drought, but does not tolerate soil compaction as well as some trees. Like other oaks, it is less likely to heave sidewalks than other equally large trees.

It has been used successfully to rehabilitate disturbed sites, including acidic sites with coal mine spoils, where it has the advantage of tolerating some acidity.

An important source of lumber; its wood is heavy, hard, strong, and coarse-grained and porous. Like other red oaks, its resistance to insects and rot is poor, especially relative to white oaks. One of the most widely used types of wood in North America.

The wood also has a high heat content and makes excellent firewood.

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