Height: 60 to 80 feet
Lifespan: Around 200 years; often shorter, but occasionally approaches 300 years
Fall Foliage: Uninspiring brown; occasionally reddish-brown
Range: Southeastern United States, north to New Jersey and west to Texas; ranges into southern Illinois in the Midwest
Typical Habitat: Can be found in damp lowlands, but typically an upland tree that thrives in poor soils
The Southern Red Oak: A Survivor
The southern red oak is a common sight in the southeastern United States, as it is not only common in natural habitats but also planted widely as a shade or ornamental tree. This is due, in part, to the tree’s rugged constitution, which allow it to thrive in harsh locations. The southern red oak is fairly drought tolerant, and it’ll often grow in rocky or sandy soils in which other species can’t thrive.
Southern Red Oak Identification: Tips & Tricks
The southern red oak can present some challenges to the budding nature lover, but they become fairly distinctive and easy to recognize with practice.
One of the reasons they can be tricky relates to the variability of their leaves. On a single branch, you may note three- and five-lobed leaves, and two to three different overall shapes. But there are two things you can look for that’ll generally help you identify a southern red oak: A curved (“falcate,” hence the specie’s scientific name) middle lobe and a bell- or vase-shaped base.
You can also note the distinctive two-toned appearance of the leaves, as this is sometimes helpful for distinguishing them from some other oaks. Most commonly, they’re dark, glossy green above and pale khaki or brown below.
It is important to note that the southern red oak can be very trick to distinguish from the cherry bark oak (Quercus pagoda) – a species that was formerly considered a different subspecies or variety of the southern red oak. However, the bell-shaped leaf base is generally sufficient to identify southern red oaks.
The Southern Red Oak: Additional Information
Interested in learning more about the southern red oak? The following resources provide a great starting point.
- Illinois State Museum: General information about the tree in the northern portion of its range, as well as some discussion of the similar cherry bark oak.
- North Carolina State Extension: Great overview of the southern red oak, as well as tons of photos.
- Virginia Tech Dendrology: Quick facts about the species, including identification tips and a range map.