Types of Oak Trees (With Pictures of Trunk Bark)

Updated on June 6, 2016
Farmer Rachel profile image

Rachel worked as a farm manager for three years in Pennsylvania. She now owns a small farm in Minnesota, One23 Farm.

An enormous eastern white oak growing on the edge of a parking lot near my home.
An enormous eastern white oak growing on the edge of a parking lot near my home. | Source

The Mighty and Popular Oak

I love oak trees for several reasons, one being their beauty, another being the many uses of the wood including splitting for firewood, fence posts, fence rails, barrels, casks, boards, and furniture (though I care less for furniture than the others). I've even written about the value of oak (and other hardwoods) for firewood. I love “hunting” oak in the woods on and sorrounding the property where I live. There’s nothing quite like standing under a giant, ancient oak tree with a five-foot trunk diameter and gazing up into the tree top.

Most people know what an oak tree is, and can probably even identify at least one type of oak tree when they see it. But did you know there are more than 60 different species of oak trees in the United States alone? Some can only be distinguished by looking at the "hairs" on their stems, or the color of their acorn caps, or the number and shape of lobes on their leaves. Many types of oak can also cross with other types, so there is great potential for new species of oak to be reported and characterized.

Most oaks fall into one of two main categories: white oak and red oak. White oak acorns take one year to reach maturity, while red oak acorns take two years. Another good indicator of white vs. red oak is the shape of the leaf lobes. Red oak leaves usually come to a point at the end of each lobe, while the lobes of white oak leaves are rounded. Here’s a snapshot of just some common oak species, and a little information about how to identify them.


White oak bark pictures

Eastern white oak bark
Eastern white oak bark | Source
Chestnut oak bark
Chestnut oak bark | Source
Bur oak bark
Bur oak bark | Source
Post oak bark and leaf example
Post oak bark and leaf example | Source

The White Oaks

Eastern White Oak (Quercus alba) –

This tree is very large, but sometimes not as tall as other oak trees. Height ranges from 60 to 150 feet, and generally depends on the environment the tree is growing in. Open spaces allow the eastern white oak to branch out and develop a wide silhouette – growing in the forest usually produces a taller tree. Trunk diameters range from 3 to 5 feet. The leaves of this tree are evenly-lobed, and a bit white-ish underneath. Trunk bark is light grey and furrowed. Excellent wood for all types of both interior and exterior construction; phenomenal rot-resistance. The wood also burns very hot and is superior for home-heating or cooking with wood.

Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana) –

This is a huge tree, easily reaching a height of 100 feet and a trunk diameter of 4 feet and greater. The leaves of the chestnut oak have many pairs (sometimes 16 pairs) of rounded teeth. The bark on the trunk is very dark, while most other white oak group members have light grey bark. The trunk bark is also deeply ridged, more so than others.

Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) –

Sometimes called the “Mossycup oak” because of the fringe on its acorn cups, this tree usually grows to be more than 80 feet tall, often up to 150 feet. Trunk diameters for the bur oak typically range from 2 to 3 feet. The shiny leaves of this tree are variable, but are usually divided into two or more portions, with the typical rounded lobes of all members of the white oak group. The trunk bark is light grey and has shallow grooves.

Post Oak (Quercus stellata) –

This is a relatively small oak tree, ranging in height from 50 to 70 feet and with average trunk diameters of 1 to 2 feet. Perhaps called “post oak” for its historical use in the making of fence posts; the smaller trunk diameter makes squaring these logs go easier and faster, and the rot-resistant wood makes good fence material. The leaves of this tree are leathery, with lobes shaped like a cross. The bark of the post oak is brown rather than grey, and has shallow cracks that create the look of rectangular boxes.

Red oak bark pictures

Northern red oak bark
Northern red oak bark | Source
Black oak bark
Black oak bark | Source
Scarlet oak bark, mature tree
Scarlet oak bark, mature tree | Source
Pin oak bark
Pin oak bark | Source
Southern red oak bark and leaf example
Southern red oak bark and leaf example | Source

The Red Oaks

Northern Red Oak (Quercus ruba) –

This is a very large tree, growing 70 to 150 feet tall with trunk diameters easily reaching 4 feet. The leaves of the northern red oak are lobed, the lobes have multiple points, but the lobes are not as long as those of other red oak group members (like the scarlet oak). Inner bark is red-orange. Straight-grained red oak splits very nicely into fence boards and roof shingles; it also burns hot and splits well for firewood.

Black Oak (Quercus velutina) –

This is generally a large tree, growing 70 to 100 feet tall, with trunk diameters ranging from 3 to 4 feet. The leaves of the black oak are usually glossy or shiny on top, distinguising them from the leaves of most other red oak trees. The inner bark is orange, less red than the inner bark of the northern red oak, but the best way to identify is with the leaves. Black oak also, generally, splits well and makes very good firewood.

Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea) –

This is a medium-sized oak tree, usually growing 40 to 50 feet tall, with trunk diameters ranging from 1 to 2 feet, sometimes 3. The leaves of this oak are more deeply lobed than its close red oak relatives. The acorn cups are brown and hairless. The scarlet oak prefers a dry soil. Bark is medium-dark to dark grey, and furrowed. Scarlet oak can be hard to split, but makes good firewood.

Pin Oak (Quercus palustrus) –

This is a large tree, usually growing 70 to 100 feet tall, with trunk diameters easily reaching 3 feet. You can tell a pin oak from other red oaks by the downward-sloping lower branches. The pin oak is very similar to scarlet oak, but its buds are hairless, and in the wild the pin oak typically grows many small, “pin-like” branches. Bark is dark and furrowed. Good wood for splitting, and for firewood.

Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata) –

This is a medium to large tree, growing 70 to 100 feet tall with trunk diameters averaging 2 to 3 feet. Southern red oak is sometimes called Spanish oak, and the cherrybark oak is often confused with it. The leaves of the southern red oak have only three lobes, and the lobes are typically not spaced regularly. This tree prefers sandy upland soil.

Questions & Answers

  • Is the northern red oak worth any money?

    Sure, as firewood. But if it is very straight-grained, it could be worth more for other uses.

  • What is the proper name of the gray oak?

    Quercus grisea; it is in the white oak group.

  • I live on land that was once a pine tree preserve. It was turned into farming land and then as land for a residence. Which tree would be perfect for this type of soil? I have a pin oak, but I love tall trees.

    You should do a soil test where you want to plant the trees. You can get test kits cheap on the internet and even free from your Extension office. Once you know what's up with your soil, you can ask the Extension for their expertise. There are way too many trees for me to recommend to you!

  • When should I trim dead oak branches?

    In the fall. If you have extremely harsh winters, you can wait until the spring.

Comments

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    • Farmer Rachel profile imageAUTHOR

      Rachel Koski 

      10 months ago from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota

      @Ernst Hall - though there is debate about this, q. virginiana is classified as a white oak! There are other oaks and evergreen oaks often referred to as "live oaks", but they might not be white oaks if they aren't the real Virginia live oak deal.

    • profile image

      Ernst Hall 

      10 months ago

      What type, red or white, is the Live Oak - Quercus virginiana?

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 

      5 years ago from Australia

      I planted an oak tree today. A friend gave it to my husband as a gift. It's a tiny tree with just a few leaves but it holds the promise of providing a shady corner in the garden sometime in the future. Your hub has inspired me to take a look at the parent tree and see if I can find any clues about which type or oak tree it is. Otherwise I'll just have to wait an awfully long time to see what its bark looks like. No point waiting to see how tall it grows. :)

    • Farmer Rachel profile imageAUTHOR

      Rachel Koski 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota

      Lady_E - Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I didn't always know there were so many different types of trees, either. List goes on and on!

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 

      6 years ago from London, UK

      Very interesting and unique Hub. I actually thought oak was oak. I didn't know there were different types. I'm more the wiser now, thanks to you.

    • Farmer Rachel profile imageAUTHOR

      Rachel Koski 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota

      Grandmapearl - Thanks so much for the votes and shares! I really enjoyed writing this one; I just love oak trees. I'm really lucky to have so many different varieties growing around me. I love to play the identification game, seeing if I know which oak is which. Glad you liked the article!

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 

      6 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Very interesting and informative article FarmerRachel! Right now the squirrels are working the oak trees--in fact, I have to wear a hat when I go outside to help cushion my head from the falling acorns! But I love living in the woods--there's always something happening that's interesting. I have voted this up, interesting and useful and shared and pinned. Thanks for the great info.

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