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Black Oak (Quercus velutina)

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Summary

A large oak with a wide distribution across eastern North America, common in much of its range, often a canopy tree in forests. More tolerant of dry, nutrient-poor conditions than most large oaks.

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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 velutina

Illinois Wildflowers Page for Quercus velutina

Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) Article for Quercus velutina

Similar Plants

Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)
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Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)
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Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica)
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Habitat

Found in eastern and central hardwood forests as well as savannas in the transition between central forests and prairies.

Widely adaptable, but usually found on dry upland sites, sites with sandy or excessively well-drained soils, and nutrient-poor soils. The presence of black oak on a site is usually more due to favorable circumstances allowing it to get established, rather than the properties of the site itself. More drought-tolerant than northern red oak, about as tolerant as white oak, and less drought-tolerant than post oak.

Frequently found on sandy and coarse-textured soils, where it often competes better with other vegetation. Often found on south- and west-facing slopes, which produce the sunnier, drier conditions that favor it.

Occupies an intermediate stage in succession on many sites, replacing pines or black cherry, but being replaced by more shade-tolerant species including white oak, chestnut oak, hickory, maple, elm, beech, or blackgum on sites rich enough for these other species to get established. Can be a climax species on dry, nutrient-poor sites.

Found in areas with frequent, low-intensity fires, but absent from areas that have more frequent (8-12 years) higher-intensity fires. Infrequent (50-100) intervals of high-intensity fire may favor black oak by allowing enough time for trees to reach canopy dominance and produce seed, but then killing more shade-tolerant species and producing an open environment in which it can re-establish.

Life Cycle

Acorns germinate underground, typically in conditions where they have contact with mineral soil but are also covered with a light layer of leaf litter.

Seedlings are drought-tolerant, but often cannot survive on completely exposed sites, and do better in the presence of some protecting herbaceous vegetation. Seedlings will resprout from the root if top-killed, a process that may continue for as long as 10-20 years.

On average, seed production begins around 20 years of age, and peaks between 40 and 75 years. Good acorn crops are produced every 2-3 years. The acorns are distributed by squirrels, mice, blue jays, and other animals. The smaller acorns are more distributed by smaller animals such as blue jays and mice, relative to many oaks with larger acorns that rely primarily on squirrels. The caching of acorns in the soil by animals is the primary method of reproduction.

Trees can live 150-200 years, and are often killed by oak wilt.

Uses

Uncommonly used in landscaping, because its long taproot makes it difficult to transplant. When used in landscaping, valued for its adaptability to a wide range of sites.

Used for timber; the wood is similar to other red oaks, and typically sold together with them.

The bark is high in tannin and has been used for commercial tannin production. The bark has also historically been used to produce a yellow dye.

Black oak has naturally colonized lead-zinc mining sites. It has also been intentionally planted on some abandoned surface mines.

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