Scarlet Oak, A Top 100 Common Tree in North America

Quercus coccinea is a Favorite Oak For Planting

A Scarlet Oak tree against a blue sky.

Katja Schulz / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) is best known for its brilliant autumn color. The oak is a large rapid-growing tree in the family of red oaks located in the Eastern United States and found on a variety of soils in mixed forests, especially light sandy and gravelly upland ridges and slopes.

The best development of natural forests is in the Ohio River Basin. In commerce, the lumber is mixed with that of other red oaks. Scarlet oak is a popular shade tree, a nursery trade favorite and has been a widely planted tree in landscapes of the United States and Europe.

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The Silviculture of Scarlet Oak

A shot of a Scarlet Oak changing color in a field.

Whiteway / Getty Images

In addition to its value as a timber and wildlife species, scarlet oak is widely planted as an ornamental. Its brilliant red autumn color, open crown texture, and rapid growth make it a desirable tree for yard, street, and park.

Quercus coccinea seedlings develop a strong taproot with relatively few lateral roots which makes transplanting this species difficult. Its "coarse" root system along with a relatively slow rate of root regeneration negatively effects replanting wild seedlings.  It does well when conainer grown in a nursery.

The major insect defoliators of scarlet oak include the oak leafteaterfall cankerwormforest tent caterpillar, gypsy moth and orangestriped oakworm. Scarlet oak is also susceptible to oak wilt disease and may die within a month after the first symptoms appear. This oak is also subject to cankers of Nectria spp. and Strummella coryneoidea. These diseases are especially severe from Virginia northward.

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The Images of Scarlet Oak

Close up of green leaves turning red of scarlet oak.

vandervelden / Getty Images provides several images of parts of scarlet oak. The tree is a hardwood and the lineal taxonomy is Magnoliopsida > Fagales > Fagaceae > Quercus coccinea. Scarlet oak is also commonly called black oak, red oak, or Spanish oak.

Quercus coccinea is very similar to Shumard oak but with shorter leaves, 3 to 7 ". Unlike Shumard oak, this oak tree grows on drier sites on upland slopes, ridges and sandy barrens. The acorns are relatively small, 1/2 to 3 inches long and less than an inch wide. This fruit is enclosed by a cup on a very short stalk.

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Scarlet Oak at Virginia Tech

Scarlet Oak leaves that are red and green hanging from a branch.

Whiteway / Getty Images

Leaf: Alternate, simple, 3 to 7 inches long, oval in shape with very deep sinuses and bristle-tipped lobes, shiny green above, paler and generally hairless below but may have tufts in vein axils.

Twig: Moderately stout, red-brown with multiple terminal buds; buds reddish brown, plump, pointed, slightly angled, and covered with a light colored pubescence on the top half.

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The Range of Scarlet Oak

Scarlet Oak leaves turning red during the fall.

Katja Schulz / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Scarlet oak is found from southwestern Maine west to New York, Ohio, southern Michigan, and Indiana; south to southern Illinois, southeastern Missouri, and central Mississippi; east to southern Alabama and southwestern Georgia; and north along the western edge of the Coastal Plain to Virginia.

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Fire Effects on Scarlet Oak

A branch of green leaves of a Scarlet Oak.

Bruce Kirchoff / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The fire resistance of scarlet oak is rated as low. It has thin bark, and even low severity surface fires can result in severe basal damage and high mortality. Top-killed scarlet oaks sprout vigorously from the root crown after fire.