Guide to Common Oak Trees of North America

Basic Information on Quercus and the Common U.S. Oaks

common north american oak trees illo

Treehugger / Catherine Song

The oak tree has long been prized for legendary strength, longevity, and excellent wood properties. Oak trees adapt well in the natural forest, the suburban yard and oak parks of inner cities. Oaks have become objects of art, myth, and worship. You will most likely have the opportunity to see a ubiquitous oak tree every time you leave the house.

The oak tree is a favorite wood used for hundreds of manufactured forest products, and, so, is favored as a crop tree and carefully managed in a forest for future harvest.

Oaks are chosen as a symbol for all trees and are the state tree of Maryland, Connecticut, Illinois, Georgia, New Jersey, and Iowa. The mighty oak is also the official tree of the capital of the United States, Washington, D.C.

The Most Common Oak Trees of North America

Mailbox on a back road in Rural South Carolina in Autumn, Leaves of the oak tree are backlit by the bright morning sun.

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An oak tree is one of the most common species of trees in the Northern Hemisphere which includes North America. Oak trees come in two major prototypes — red oak trees and white oak trees. Some oak trees have leaves that stay on the tree year-round (evergreen) and others have leaves that drop during dormancy (deciduous), plus they all bear the familiar acorn fruit.

All oaks belong to the beech tree family but do not look like a beech tree. About 70 oak species grow to tree size in North America.

Identify an Oak by Leaf Shape

swamp white oak leaf

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You can identify your particular oak tree by looking at its leaf. Oak trees have a lot of leaf shapes. These shapes determine the species of oak and that information is important for picking a specific tree to plant or harvest.

Does your oak tree have leaves that are rounded on the bottom of the sinus and at the top of the lobe and have no spines (white oak) or does your tree have leaves that are angular to rounded at the base of the sinus and angular at the top of the lobe and have small spines (red oak)?

Red Oak Tree Group

california live oak leaves and acorns

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Red oak is included in a group of oaks (northern and southern red oaks) categorized by that same name. Other red oak family members include pin oak, Shumard oak, black oak, scarlet oak, and southern/northern red oak.

Red oak is grown in parks and large gardens as a specimen tree and the smaller related scarlet and pin oak are planted in smaller landscapes.

White Oak Tree Group

chestnut oak leaves and acorn

Mwanner/Wikimedia Commons

White oak is included in a group of oaks categorized by that same name. Other white oak family members include the bur oak, chestnut oak, and Oregon white oak. This oak is immediately recognized by rounded lobes plus the lobe tips never have bristles like red oak.

This oak makes for a beautiful tree in the landscape but is a slow-growing tree when compared to red oak and will become huge on maturity. It is a heavy and cellularly compact wood, resistant to rot and a favorite wood for whiskey barrels.

Plant an Acorn & Grow an Oak Tree

hand places germinated acorn seed in plastic gallon container filled with soil

Treehugger / Dan Amos

From late August and continuing through December, the oak tree acorn is maturing and ripening for collection. The best time to collect acorns, either off the tree or from the ground, is when they begin falling — just that simple. Once the acorns are collected, you can plant them to grow an oak tree.

The Oldest Oak Tree in America — Live Oak

Large Angel Oak backed by sunlight on Johns Island near Charleston, South Carolina

Danita Delimont / Getty Images

The Angel Oak is a Southern live oak tree located in Angel Oak Park, on Johns Island, South Carolina. It may be the oldest tree east of the Mississippi River and is certainly one of the most beautiful.

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