Identifying the Black Oak Tree

Learn about this tree's identifying characteristics, where to find it, and more.

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Black oak (Quercus velutina) is a deciduous, medium-to-large oak tree is commonly found in the eastern half of the United States. A black oak tree can be identified by its bark and leaves. The bark is typically dark blackish or brownish grey, and the leaves are green with lobes that have bristles at the tips.

This guide will explain all of the key characteristics of the black oak tree so you identify it on your next forest exploration.

Scientific Name  Quercus velutina 
Common Name  Black oak 
Habitat  In the United States along the East Coast and eastern midwestern states
Description  Simple leaves about 3-9 inches long with lobes and bristles at the tips; outer bark is black and smooth, and grows rough with maturity.
Uses  Acorns from black oak trees support the wildlife in the areas

Description and Identification

Black oak is also known as yellow oak, quercitron, yellow bark oak, or smoothbark oak. The "yellow" in these names comes from the tree's inner bark, which is yellowish in color. Black oak generally grows to about 80 feet tall, but like the willow oak, some can grow to be 100 feet tall. The crown of the tree is spreading, which makes this a good shade tree.

The bark of a black oak tree is smooth in texture, often growing rough with maturity. Black oak leaves are one of the best ways to identify the tree. They are about 3-9 inches long and can vary in shape. What makes them distinct are the lobes on a single leaf, which have sharp tips and can be all different sizes.

Black oak trees produce the most seeds between 40 and 75 years. Seedlings are typically produced every two to three years and are dispersed by surrounding wildlife.

Treehugger Tip

Black oak can sometimes be confused with red oak. The difference is that red oak trees have more severely lobed leaves and larger acorns. Plus, the inner bark is reddish rather than black oak's yellowish color.

Native Range, Habitat, and Uses

Black oak trees can be found as north as Maine and Ontario and as south as Texas, Florida, and Georgia. They thrive in moderate climates and moist, well-draining soil, although they can adapt to a range of soil types. Black oak is typically found upland, on slopes and in hilly regions.

Black oak wood is very sturdy and good for landscaping and industrial wood products, such as flooring, furniture, and railroad ties. Native American communities also used black oak trees for their acorns, as do wildlife such as squirrels and birds.

Fire Effects on Black Oak

Black oak is moderately resistant to fire. Small black oaks are easily top-killed by fire but sprout vigorously from the root crown. Larger black oaks can withstand low-severity surface fire because of moderately thick basal bark. They are susceptible to basal wounding.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How do I identify a black oak tree?

    Pay attention to the bark color and texture as well as the details of the leaves. They can be up to 9 inches long and feature distinctive lobes with bristled tips.

  • Where are black oaks found?

    Black oaks range along the East Coast and in many states on the eastern half of the United States, as well as the southern parts of Ontario. They are often found in upland areas with moderate climates.