Black Oak, a Common Tree in North America

Black oak (Quercus velutina) is a common, medium-sized to large oak of the eastern and midwestern United States. It is sometimes called yellow oak, quercitron, yellowbark oak, or smoothbark oak. It grows best on moist, rich, well-drained soils, but it is often found on poor, dry, sandy or heavy glacial clay hillsides where it seldom lives more than 200 years. Good crops of​ acorns provide wildlife with food. The wood, commercially valuable for furniture and flooring, is sold as red oak. Black oak is seldom used for landscaping.

The Silviculture of Black Oak

A black oak tree in a field

JeannetteKatzir / Getty Images

Black oak acorns are an important food for squirrels, white-tail deer, mice, voles, turkeys, and other birds. In Illinois, fox squirrels have been observed feeding on black oak catkins. Black oak is not extensively planted as an ornamental, but its fall color contributes greatly to the ​aesthetic value of oak forests.

Black Oak Tree Images

The leaves of a black oak tree

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The tree is a hardwood and the lineal taxonomy is Magnoliopsida > Fagales > Fagaceae > Quercus velutina. Black oak is also commonly called yellow oak, quercitron, yellowbark oak, or smoothbark oak.

The Range of Black Oak

Map showing the distribution of black oak trees in the US

US Geological Survey/Wikimedia Commons 

Black oak is widely distributed from southwestern Maine and western New York to extreme southern Ontario, southeastern Minnesota, and Iowa; south in eastern Nebraska, eastern Kansas, central Oklahoma, and eastern Texas; and east to northwestern Florida and Georgia.

Black Oak at Virginia Tech

Black oak tree in fall colors, with green leaves edged in oranges and yellows

Mary Prentice / Getty Images

Leaf: Alternate, simple, 4 to 10 inches long, obovate or ovate in shape with five (mostly) to seven bristle-tipped lobes; leaf shape is variable, with sun leaves having deep sinuses and shade leaves having very shallow sinuses, lustrous shiny green above, paler with a scruffy pubescence and axillary tufts below.

Twig: Stout and red-brown to gray-green, usually glabrous but rapidly growing twigs may be hairy; buds are very large (1/4 to 1/2 inch long), buff-colored, fuzzy, pointed, and distinctly angular.

Fire Effects on Black Oak

A wildfire rips through a forest

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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.