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Scarlet Oak Quercus coccinea


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Scarlet Oak
credit: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT/CCSA

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Family: Fagaceae, Beech view all from this family

Description Quercus coccinea, the scarlet oak, is an oak in the red oak section Quercus sect. Lobatae. The scarlet oak can be mistaken for the pin oak, the black oak, or occasionally the red oak. On scarlet oak the sinuses between lobes are "C"-shaped in comparison to pin oak (Q. palustris), which has "U"-shaped sinuses and the acorns are half covered by a deep cap.

Scarlet oak is mainly native to the eastern United States, from southern Maine west to eastern Oklahoma, and south to southern Alabama. It is also native in the extreme south of Ontario, Canada. It occurs on dry, sandy, usually acidic soils. It is often an important canopy species in an oak-heath forest.

It is a medium-large deciduous tree growing to 20-30 m tall with an open, rounded crown. The leaves are glossy green, 7-17 cm long and 8-13 cm broad, lobed, with seven lobes, and deep sinuses between the lobes. Each lobe has 3-7 bristle-tipped teeth. The leaf is hairless (unlike the related pin oak, which has tufts of pale orange-brown down where the lobe veins join the central vein). The common English name is derived from the autumn coloration of the foliage, which generally becomes bright scarlet; in contrast, pin oak foliage generally turns bronze in autumn. The acorns are ovoid, 7-13 mm broad and 17-31 mm long, a third to a half covered in a deep cup, green maturing pale brown about 18 months after pollination; the kernel is very bitter.

Habitat Canyons & valleys, Mountains.

Range Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Plains, New England, Southeast.

Comments This is relatively fast-growing and long-lived oak. It is susceptible to the deadly oak wilt and must not be pruned in wilt-infested areas during the growing season. Quercus coccinea does not develop chlorosis as badly as the similar pin oak, however it is less tolerant of adverse conditions. It is harder to find in the nursery trade than pin or red oak.

Exposure Preference Sun.

Native Distribution S.w. Maine to s.e. Missouri & s. (in a line mostly w. of the Coastal Plain) to Georgia & Mississippi.

Site Preference Dry, upland woods; ridges; slopes.

Soil Preference Shallow infertile soils over sandstone or limestone. pH 6.1-6.5.

Wildlife Value Attracts songbirds, ground birds and mammals.