News and Blog Articles
News and Blog Articles
As a native tree found pretty much everywhere in the southeast, it’s about time for us to feature the Southern Red Oak as our Tree of the Month! Also known as the Bottomland Red Oak, Three-Lobed Red Oak, and Spanish oak, Quercus falcata is a deciduous tree known for its stunning fall color displays and classically shaped acorns.
The Southern Red Oak is a pretty widespread species, common in over a dozen southeast states. They prefer to grow upland (though will occasionally sprout along streams), and thrive in the poor mesic soil that other tree species would find uninhabitable.
As their upland home might suggest, these behemoths prefer full sun exposure and are extremely drought-resistant. They can still survive flooding on occasion, though, and will tolerate partial shade assuming their soil is well-drained.
Did You Know?
Despite the fact that these trees look absolutely nothing like any of the oaks found in Spain, one of the colloquial names for this species is the Spanish Oak. Most likely, this comes from the fact many of the early Spanish colonies in North America were located in areas densely populated with these trees.
When left to their own devices, Southern Red Oaks will reach an average height of 60 to over 100 feet. Their crown spreads are similarly massive at 50 to 60 feet wide, supported by a trunk of only 2 to 3 feet in diameter. As moderately fast growers, these trees are popular in both public and private landscaping as statement features. They are often used as shade trees in parks and public spaces, and are especially suited as street trees thanks to their drought resistance.
The bark of the Southern Red Oak is thick, dark, and rough. What starts out as thin, smooth, and light gray will eventually age into furrowed, scaled, deeper greys and greyish-browns. Fully matured tree bark may even reach black in color. Branching begins well away from the ground, and maintains an evenly-spaced distribution. Each branch grows up and out for an overall symmetrical shape.
Interestingly, Southern Red Oaks grow two different types of leaves. The first is pear-shaped, with three rounded lobes (these look a little like animal prints you’d see in a cartoon). From base to tip, these leaves average around 4 to 5 inches long. The second leaf type has skinnier, pointier lobes that are both asymmetrical and bristled. These are much longer, averaging closer to 9 inches in length.
Both types of leaves are a deep, glossy green in the spring and summer, with tan, downy undersides that offer a nice contrast when the wind blows. In the fall, this green fades to rich reds and reddish-browns, which is the reason why we call them Southern Red Oaks.
As with most oak species, these trees drop acorns. Around a quarter of an inch to half an inch long, these tiny fruits are protected with hairy little caps that cover about a third of the total nut. They’re generally stouter than the classic acorn shape, but are still instantly identifiable.
While these acorns make for a delicious source of food for a variety of animals (and a fun scavenger hunt for the kids!), they can also be a nuisance, especially along sidewalks or in your backyard.
Did You Know?
Southern Red Oaks have been known to cross-pollinate with other red oak species in the southeast, resulting in hybrid acorns that grow into hybrid trees!
Prior to these tripping hazards, however, come “flowers.” That’s in quotation marks because, though scientifically classified as such, the fruiting bodies of the Southern Red Oaks look nothing like what you’d think of when you hear the word.
As a monoecious species, both male and female flowers grow together on the same tree. The male catkins are yellowish-green in color and long and skinny in shape, while the female clusters are reddish-brown in color and grown shorter and stouter.
Interested in learning about more tree species? Check out our other Tree of the Month articles!
Emily Casuccio is sister and sister-in-law to Rebekah and Scott Rushing, and has over half a decade of experience in copywriting, copyediting, proofreading, and developmental storyboarding. She's worked with both published and undiscovered authors on both fiction and nonfiction, and takes pride in supporting local businesses. Her passion lies in the written word and helping authors of all capacities realize their dreams and achieve their fullest potential. To learn more about her, read samples of her work, or contact her, visit her online portfolio.