Plant FinderPlant Finder Graphic
Zones 1-10, 14-21, 31-45
Full Sun

Quercus rubra

Red Oak, Northern Red Oak
Deciduous, Trees


The archetypal oak grows large and spreads wide, with muscular, near-horizontal lower branches that seem to defy gravity. But the group’s 500 species, all native to the Northern Hemisphere, also include upright, pyramidal, and shrubby oaks; in fact, “chaparral” comes from chaparra—Spanish for a dwarf evergreen shrub oak. Oak leaves can be deciduous or evergreen (the latter are called live oaks); lobed, toothed, or smooth edged; but they’re always arranged in an alternate pattern along stems. Some have terrific fall color. All oaks produce inconspicuous flowers followed by acorns, whose single nuts have cuplike caps covered with closely set scales. Some kinds of acorns are edible and sweet, while others are bitter and unpalatable.

Oaks come in two broad categories: white oaks have acorns that mature during the season in which they are produced, and often have leaves with rounded lobes; red and black oaks have acorns that take two seasons to mature, and often have leaves with pointed lobes. Each group can hybridize only within itself. 

Quercus rubra

This deciduous tree is a fast grower to 60–75 ft. tall and 50 ft. wide, with spreading branches and a rounded canopy. Bark becomes quite dark and fissured with age. Leaves are 5–8 in. long, 4–6 in. wide, with three to seven pairs of sharp-pointed lobes. New leaves and leafstalks are red or bright yellow in spring, dark green in summer, turning dark red, ruddy brown, or orange in fall. Acorns are 3/4–1 in. long, shaped like a toy top, enclosed by one-third in a shallow cap; often profuse, creating litter on pavement. Needs fertile soil and regular moisture. High-branching habit and reasonably open shade make it a good tree for big lawns, parks, or broad avenues. Deep roots make it good to garden under. Known host of the fungus that causes sudden oak death.

You Might Also Like...

Alnus glutinosa

Native to Europe, North Africa. Probably best as multistemmed tree; grows moderately quickly to 7...

Pinus edulis

Native from California’s desert mountains east to New Mexico and Texas and north to Wyoming. Gro...

Populus alba ‘Pyramidalis’

Native to Europe and Asia, this seedless poplar variety forms a 15-ft.-wide column and has a white or ...

Find Your Sunset Climate Zone

Find Your Sunset Climate Zone

View Maps Learn More