Rick’s Native Plant of the Month | Oak Trees

November 10, 2022

By Rick Bogusch

Bridge Gardens

You may be surprised to know that oak species can be found throughout the northern hemisphere, in both temperate and subtropical climates. Some are evergreen, some have entire leaves. Botanists divide oaks into two groups, the white oaks and the red oaks and both are common in our area. White oaks have leaves with rounded lobes with no bristles and their acorns mature in one season. Local species include white oak (Quercus alba), swamp white oak (Q. bicolor) and mossycup oak (Q. macrocarpa).

Red oaks have leaves with pointed lobes tipped with bristles and acorns that take 2 seasons to mature and fall. Red oak (Q. rubra), black oak (Q. velutina), scarlet oak (Q. coccinea) and pin oak (Q. palustris) are all species that can be found locally. Oaks are known to naturally hybridize by pollinating across species, so individual trees can vary in their characteristics.


Oaks can be difficult to transplant because of their tap roots. The easiest and fastest-growing species to find and plant are red and pin oaks, but other species like swamp white and mossycup oaks are becoming more available locally in transplantable sizes. Near native species to consider are willow oak (Q. phellos), chestnut oak (Q. prinus) and chinquapin oak (Q. muehlenbergii).

Symbols of strength and longevity for millennia, oaks have been important economically for just as long. Indigenous peoples used them for bows, canoes, baskets, medicines and firewood and even today, they are the most important hardwood in the lumber and construction industries. Moreover, oaks are also important pillars of local environments throughout their range, supporting hundreds of species of pollinators, birds and other wildlife.

Many hesitate to plant oaks because they are slow-growing and difficult to establish in large sizes, but they grow faster than you may think when well-planted and well-sited and are well worth the wait. If you’re thinking of planting a tree or two, consider planting oaks.


One of our largest oaks, possible scarlet oak

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