Quercus rubra L. - Northern Red Oak, Red Oak, Com
Native , Common
By Steven D. Glenn
Not peer reviewed
Last Modified 01/25/2013
Common NamesNorthern Red Oak, Red Oak, Com
Field IdentificationLarge deciduous tree with alternate, simple, lobed leaves; buds clustered near twig ends; catkin-like flowers in spring followed by acorns in the fall.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is for reference and historical use. We do not recommend nor do we condone the use of this species for food purposes without first consulting a physician.
Native American often used the acorns for a variety of food products, usually by removing the tannins by boiling the nuts or soaking them in lye water. They also used an infusion of bark as an appetizer. (Moerman, 1998)
Disclaimer: The information provided here is for reference and historical use. We do not recommend nor do we condone the use of this species for medicinal purposes without first consulting a physician.
Used by Native Americans to treat a variety of maladies including dysentery, mouth and skin sores, fevers, indigestion and diarrhea, urinary disorders, heart and lung troubles, coughs, and gonorrhea. (Moerman, 1998)
The Native Americans used the fiber for constructing baskets, wood for firewood as well as making tools, leaves for wrapping dough in bread making, and the bark for making dyes. It was the favorite fuel of the Kiowa for the alter fire in the peyote ceremony.
The wood was used by European settlers for making lumber, railroad ties, wagon wheels, and furniture. (Moerman, 1998)
Oak-mast surveys may help wildlife agencies better understand dynamics of fall harvests and may be useful in harvest management models that attempt to stabilize fall harvest rates of game animals (Norman, 2003).
Tannins derived from oaks have been used historically to tan animal hides into leather. (Burrows & Tyrl, 2001)
Oak leaves, buds, bark, and acorns contain tannins which have varying degrees of toxicity in different animals. Although oak foliage and acorns provide valuable food for many wildlife species and even some livestock, oak toxicosis, a urinary and digestive tract disease can occur when some animals are forced to subsist on oaks exclusively for several days. Poisoning is rare in humans due to the large amounts needed to ingest to cause symptoms. (Burrows & Tyrl, 2001)
Dryads (or "tree spirits") are nymphs associated with Greek mythology which live near, or in, trees. Dryads are born bonded to a specific tree, originally, in the Indo-European Celtic-Druidic culture, an oak tree. Drys in Greek signifies 'oak,' from an Indo-European root *derew(o)- 'tree' or 'wood.'
In a nationwide vote hosted by the National Arbor Day Foundation in 2001, the oak was selected as America's National Tree.
Nomenclature*Quercus rubra L., Sp. Pl. 996. 1753. p.p.?
Quercus rubra maxima Marsh., Arbust. Am. 122. 1785.
Quercus ambigua Michx. f., Hist. Arb. For. Am. Sept. 2: 120, t. 24. 1812.
Quercus borealis Michx. f., N. Am. Sylva 1: 98. 1817.
?Quercus angulizans Raf., Alsogr. Am. 22. 1838.
?Quercus acerifolia Kirchner in Petzold & Kirchner, Arb. Muscav. 656. 1864.
Quercus coccinea var. ambigua Gray, Man. Bot. N. U.S. ed. 5, 454. 1867.
Quercus rubra var. ambigua (Michx. f.) Fernald in Robinson & Fernald in Gray, Man. Bot. N. U.S. ed. 7, 341. 1908.
Quercus maxima (Marsh.) Ashe, Proc. Soc. Am. For. 11: 90. 1916.
Quercus borealis var. maxima (Marsh.) Ashe, Proc. Soc. Am. For. 11: 90. 1916.
see (Sargent, 1916).
HABIT Perennial, deciduous, phanerophytic, tree, diclinous and monoecious, 25-30 m tall.
STEMS Main stems ascending or erect, round. Bark gray or dark gray, with wide ridges and shallow fissures, not exfoliating. Branches erect or ascending or horizontal. Twigs reddish-brown to brown or gray, fluted-terete, 2-5 mm in diameter, smooth and lenticellate, glabrous. Pith white, 5-pointed, continuous, nodal diaphragm absent. Sap translucent. For an anatomical study of the xylem see Tillson & Muller, 1942. For an anatomical study of seedling roots see Carpenter & Guard, 1954.
BUDS Terminal and axillary present, clustered at twig apices and scattered along stem, usually hairy on distal half only or nearly glabrous. Terminal bud ovoid, blunt to semi-pointed; axillary buds ovoid, blunt to semi-pointed. Bud scales dark brown or brown, imbricate, with short and unbranched appressed brown or light brown hairs, sparse or moderately dense. Bud scale scars encircling the twig. Leaf scars crescent-shaped to half-round. Vascular bundle scars numerous, scattered.
LEAVES Alternate, simple, (appearing pseudo-opposite or pseudo-whorled at twig apices), crowded toward stem apex or spaced somewhat evenly along and divergent from stem. Stipules lateral, free from the petiole, linear, caducous. Petiole adaxially flattened, 1.5-6 cm long, glabrous. Leaf blades: abaxial surface light green, occasionally semi-glaucous; adaxial surface green to dark green; elliptic or ovate or obovate, bilaterally symmetric, 7.5-25 cm long, 6-18 cm wide, chartaceous; base truncate or obtuse or cuneate; margins somewhat symmetrically 4-6 lobed per side 1/4 - 1/2 distance to the midvein with rounded sinuses and acute, aristate apices; apex acute and aristate. Abaxial surface obscurely papillose and glabrous except for tufts of fasciculate erect to spreading brown hairs, distributed in the main vein axils. Adaxial surface glabrous. Other types of hairs (multi-cellular bulbous, unicellular solitary, multi-radiate) sometimes also present but difficult to discern without high magnification, see Hardin, 1979a;Thompson & Mohlenbrock, 1979; and for an overview of the phenology and the variability and density of hairs due to ecological factors and hybridization see Hardin, 1979b. For an anatomical study of the stomata, cuticle and mesophyll in relation to different light environments see Ashton & Berlyn, 1994.
FEMALE INFLORESCENCES Coetaneous, spike consisting of a single flower (sometimes 2-3), in axils of current year leaves, subsessile initially, often becoming short-pedunculate in fruit, surrounded by a cupule which is persistent, accrescent, and indurate in fruit (acorn cap). There has been debate over the years regarding the true ontogenetic nature of the cupule. Originally thought to be an involucre of bracts, recent research suggests that the cupule is a complex partial inflorescence derived from stem tissue, see Abbe, 1974;Brett, 1964;Foreman, 1966;MacDonald, 1979;Fey & Endress, 1983. Each cupule subtended by 3 minute, caducous bracteoles. For an ontogenetic and anatomical study of the inflorescence see Langdon, 1939.
FEMALE FLOWERS Perianth of one whorl, minute, fragrance absent. Calyx urceolate, of fused sepals. Carpels 3. Locules 3, each containing 2 ovules. Styles 3, each with 1 stigma. Ovary inferior. Placentation axile. For an ontogenetic and anatomical study of the flower see Langdon, 1939.
MALE INFLORESCENCES Coetaneous, compound, solitary or fascicled spikes; pendant, catkin-like; in leaf axils of previous year. Rachis moderately covered with brown to white hairs; elongating and glabrescent with age; with 1 subsessile or sessile flower per node, each flower subtended by a small, sessile caducous bracteole.
MALE FLOWERS Perianth of one whorl, 4-4.5 mm in diameter, fragrance absent. Calyx actinomorphic, campanulate, of fused sepals. Sepal lobes 5-6, broadly oval to ovate with brown to white hairs moderately dense along margins. Stamens 4-5, exserted. Anthers glabrous, basifixed, opening along the long axis. Filaments free, 1mm long, straight, glabrous (Rowlee & Nichols, 1900). For a review of pollen morphology see (Solomon, 1983a).
FRUITS Acorn (glans (Spjut, 1994)) (calybium (Kaul, 1985)) sessile to short-pedunculate; maturation biennial. Acorn ovoid-oblong, 1.5-3 cm long, comprised of 2 parts- a. the acetabuliform-crateriform cup (cupule), enclosing 1/4(1/3?) of the base of the nut; and b. the nut, 1-seeded by abortion (rarely 2-3 (Jack, 1914);(Hosner, 1959)). For a hypothesis that the first ovule fertilized suppresses the normal development of the others see Mogensen, 1975. Cupule exterior composed of imbricate, appressed scales moderately covered with brown tomentum. Nut olive-green to brown, ovoid-oblong, with large light-colored circular cupule scar at base and apiculate at the distal end; minutely laterally striate; initially with minute short and unbranched appressed brown to light brown hairs, sparsely or moderately densely distributed throughout, glabrescent. One study found a size range of 0.89-6.10 cubic cm with a mean of 2.72 cubic cm and a correlation between smaller acorn size with increasing latitude see Aizen & Woodcock, 1992. For an ontogenetic and anatomical study of the fruit see Langdon, 1939.
SEEDS Embryo with two large fleshy cotyledons, endosperm lacking. (Young & Young, 1992).
HabitatUsually occurring in well drained substrates of mesic to dry woods, slopes and roadsides.
DistributionIndigenous to eastern North America.
United States -- AL, AR, CT, DC, DE, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, TN, VA, VT, WI, WV
Canada -- NB, NS, ON, PE, QC
New York Metropolitan Region -- Native throughout the metropolitan region.
Rarity StatusGlobal Heritage Rank -- G5
Connecticut -- Not listed
New Jersey -- Not listed
New York -- Not listed
Species BiologyFlowering April [week 4] - May [week 3]
Fruiting August [week 1] - October [week 4]
Masting- for a study suggesting that masting is effected by weather in conjunction with inherent reproductive cycles see (Sork, et al., 1993).
Small predators of acorns facilitate dispersal by dropping undamaged nuts and failing to recover cached nuts. These include Sciurus carolinensis (gray squirrel), Sciurus niger (fox squirrel), Glaucomys volans (Southern Flying Squirrel), Tamias striatus (eastern chipmunk), Peromyscus leucopus (white-footed mouse), Peromyscus maniculatus (deer mouse), Quiscalus quiscula (common grackle) and Cyanocita cristata (blue jay). (Ivan & Swihart, 2000) (Smith, 1972) (Briggs & Smith, 1989) (Wolff, 1996) (Bosema, 1979) (Darley-Hill & Johnson, 1981) (Johnson & Webb, 1989) (Johnson, et al., 1993) (Vaughan, 1991).
In addition, one study found that many predators preferred the basal end of the acorn and consumed only 30-60% of the cotyledon. A chemical analyses of acorns from two species revealed that the concentration of protein-precipitable phenolics (primarily tannins) was 12.5% (Q.phellos) and 84.2% (Q. laevis) higher in the apical portion of the seeds where the embryo is located, suggesting that many acorn consumers consistently eat only a portion of the cotyledon of several species of acorns and thereby permit embryo survival. (Steele, et al., 1993).
Probably included in the diet of the grey fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) (Scott, 1955), eastern wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) (Norman, 2003), and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) (Bryant, et al., 1996).
Germination (Farmer, 1974) (Godman & Mattson, 1980) (Hopper, et al., 1985) Long term storage (Suszka & Tylkowski, 1981) Water absorbed mainly through the vascular opening in the cup scar (Bonner, 1968).
General rules for collecting and storing acorns: 1. Collect acorns before they lose much water. 2. Ensure acorns are fully hydrated, soak in clean tap water overnight before placing them in storage. 3. Surface dry the acorns just before depositing them in storage to reduce mold growth. 4. Place acorns into cold storage as soon after collection as is possible. (Connor, 2004)In one study (Q. phellos and Q. laevis), germination experiments revealed equal or greater germination frequencies for partially consumed acorns than for intact acorns. (Steele, et al., 1993).
For a propagation protocol for growing bareroot oaks see Hoss, 2004.