There are countless types of oak trees found around the world, especially when you consider the fact that oaks are some of the longest-living trees around. The Quercus genus contains hundreds of different types of oak trees, all belonging to the beech family. Whether you want to plant an oak tree in your own backyard or simply want to learn more about these magnificent trees, here are some of the types and varieties you should know about.
Types of Oak Trees: Red vs. White
Given the many different oak tree varieties, it’s important to break down these cultivars further. Most oak trees, particularly those found in North America and England, can be separated into two distinct categories: red oaks and white oaks. There are some key features of either oak category which may help you distinguish them from one another.
Keep in mind that planting an oak tree is a long-term commitment, with many trees living for hundreds of years. In fact, some of the oldest oak trees are found in backyards or home landscaping settings throughout the United States. Most oak trees don’t transplant well given their elaborate root system. This is why you should choose carefully if you are interested in planting one!
Features of Red Oak Trees
Red oaks are easily identifiable using a few tricks. For example, the leaves found on red oak tree varieties are pointed and irregularly jagged. Additionally, red oaks have smooth and dark-colored bark, often with reddish hues buried in the wood. The average red oak is shorter than many other white oak tree varieties as well.
Features of White Oak Trees
White oaks average anywhere from 70-80 feet tall, depending on the specific cultivar. You can also easily pick out a white oak tree variety based on its deeply textured bark. The bark of most white oaks has an ashy or gray quality to it. Finally, white oak tree leaves are typically rounded and curved, significantly less jagged compared to red oak tree leaves.
The Most Common and Popular Types of Oak Trees
Whether you are set on a red or white oak variety, there are hundreds of oak trees to choose from. While most oak trees are quite large for the average household or backyard, there are many dwarf or compact varieties to consider as well. No matter what you decide, here is a list of some of the most popular and common types of oak trees found around the world!
Native to the central and eastern United States, black oaks are classified as Quercus velutina. These beautiful trees belong to the red oak category of oak trees, reaching an average of 60 feet tall. They feature iconic pointed leaves and gently ruffled bark, which gives them an ancient feel.
Also known as Quercus alba, white oak trees are prolific for their age and height. These trees are far too large for the average backyard, reaching over 100 feet tall in ideal conditions. Plus, some white oak trees are over 300 years old, often documented and revered for their long lifespans.
Pin oaks are definitely an oak to consider if you want to add one to your landscaping. They reach an average of 50 feet tall, and they belong to the red oak category of trees. This means that their foliage is deciduous and that they explode into beautiful fall colors as the seasons change.
Another popular white oak variety has to be the chestnut oak or Quercus Montana. These trees have a distinct upright growing pattern as well as deeply textured bark. The leaves are also dainty and rounded, and the acorns produced on chestnut oak trees are key food sources for local wildlife.
Southern Red Oak
There are a few different red oak trees, and Quercus falcata is no exception. The southern red oak tree has uniquely pointed leaves divided into three distinct lobes or sections. These trees get larger than most average red oaks, and their wood is prized for building and firewood.
Northern Red Oak
Similarly to southern red oaks, Quercus rubra or northern red oaks are iconic for their impressive appearance and ease of growth. Thriving in cooler climates, northern red oaks produce uniquely striped bark. They are one of North America’s most popular oak trees, found in parks and natural areas.
Quercus macrocarpa produces the largest acorns of any other type of oak tree. A member of the white oak group, bur or burr oaks are key for feeding local wildlife wherever they grow. Squirrels, birds, rodents, and even bears consume these acorns that reach up to two inches long.
Known as the official tree of Washington, D.C., the scarlet oak can be scientifically classified as Quercus coccinea. The wood itself has a reddish hue to it, making it a member of the red oak group. You may want to choose a scarlet oak for your landscaping, given its ornamental value.
Quercus robur, or English oak, is also known as common oak. Native to Europe, English oak trees are iconic and revered in several folk tales and cultures. These trees can get ancient too, with some specimens older than 1,000 years!
An outsider to the typical red or white oak categories, live oak trees are evergreen rather than deciduous. This is partially why they are colloquially referred to as “live” oaks: they remain green and alive, season after season. There are a number of evergreen oak tree species, all referred to as live oaks, particularly in North America.
One of the smallest oak trees on this list has to be Quercus gambelii or the Gambel oak. Reaching no larger than 60 feet tall, Gambel oaks are native to the southwestern U.S. Adapted to regions plagued by wildfires, Gambel oaks are attractive and drought-tolerant.
Quercus ilex trees are also known as Holm or holly oaks. They are another evergreen oak tree variety, much like live oaks. Native to the Meditteranean, Holm oaks are considered an invasive species of oak trees in many locations throughout Europe.
A member of the red oak group, Quercus laurifolia, or the laurel oak tree, has distinctly narrow leaves. An ideal landscaping tree in sandy or floodplain regions, laurel oaks thrive in moist environments. Plus, they mature quickly and produce graceful branches.
A white oak type with thick, fire-resistant bark, post oaks are native to the southeastern United States. Also known as Quercus stellata, post oaks produce star-shaped hairs beneath their leaves, giving them their quintessential Latin name.
A white oak variety often growing over 100 feet tall, sessile oaks are the official national trees of Ireland. Quercus petraea is widely distributed in Europe for its value in the timber industry, and sessile oaks can live for hundreds of years.
Named after their unique acorn shape, overcup oak trees are a white oak variety. They are slow-growing trees with deep ridges in their bark, and their leaves are lyre-shaped. This is likely where their Latin name stems from, known scientifically as Quercus lyrata.
Also known as Quercus pagoda, cherrybark oak trees are a prized red oak variety. They are large, forming uniform canopies that are ideal for shade. Plus, its hardwood is prized for timber production, and its gray ridged bark makes it an attractive tree if you have the space for one!
The Quercus nigra, or water oak, is unique in that its leaves grow in close clusters. They are simple and narrow, and these trees produce ample acorns once they are at least 20 years old. Water oaks thrive in moist regions, native to the southeastern United States.
Japanese Evergreen Oak
One of the most unique oak tree varieties is the Quercus acuta, or Japanese evergreen oak tree. Native to China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, the Japanese evergreen oak produces plain leaves and smooth bark in a reddish hue.
A fantastic ornamental tree for its leaves that resemble willow tree leaves, the Quercus phellos or willow oak is aptly-named. These red oaks are ideal in landscaping, given that they grow fairly quickly and don’t take up as much space as other oak varieties.
A perfect companion oak to many other types of oak trees, the chinkapin or chinquapin oak is a white oak variety. These trees go against the typical rule of thumb wherein white oak tree varieties have rounded leaves. Chinkapin oaks produce unique, jagged leaves and textured bark in a yellow hue.
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- Oak genome reveals facets of long lifespan, Available here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41477-018-0172-3