white oak

Oak Trees of Eastern North America, New England, and the Canadian Maritimes/Atlantic Canada

Oak Trees of Eastern North America, New England, and

the Canadian Maritimes/Atlantic Canada

New England and Atlantic Canada is home to various beautiful oak tree species.  With a little effort, one can learn to identify the difference among these by the leaf shapes.

1. White Oak 

Quercus alba

Beech Family (Fagaceae)

White Oak Tree
White Oak Tree

White oak trees can be distinguished from other New England oak trees by their very curvy large leaf lobes.  There are usually 5-9 lobes1,2, but can be as many as 11 lobes3, and these lobes vary from deep to shallow2.   The 7-9” leaves also lack hair and are usually pale to whitish on their bottom side3.

The tree can grow up to grow up to 80-100 feet tall1,2  with a rounded crown1, and 3.5 feet in diameter1.  The light grey bark can be described as scaly1,3 with shallow fissures or furrows3.

The oblong acorns are 1 ¼” covered by a shallow cup with bumpy scales that extends over less than a third of the acorn.

White oaks grow in dry and damp forests, upland areas, valleys, riverbanks, hillsides, and in sandy soil 1,2,3 .  I typically see white oaks growing in Massachusetts in the same forest as White Pines and Canada Hemlock.  If you have had the pleasure of learning to identify white oaks in your area, please leave us a comment about where you see them growing and what other trees seem to grow alongside them as companions.  I would also love to hear about any specimens you found to be exceptional.

 2. Scarlet Oak
Quercus coccineascarletoak2

Beech Family (Fagaceae)

The Scarlet Oak leaf is 3-7”1,2,3 long with 7-9 lobes1 on each leaf.  These leaves have pointy well defined lobes that are very deep.  The lobes have more than one point or corner.  Scarlet Oaks can be 40-80’ tall1,2,3 and 1-2’ in diameter3.    The crown has a round shape, and the bark can be described as dark grey and scaly.  The acorns are usually 1” in size and have a deep cup or cap with shiny scales1.  An identifying characteristic of Scarlet oak acorns are the concentric rings that are present around the tip1.scarletoak

Scarlet oaks grow in dry soils3 and on slopes and ridges1.  I have seen them growing in the same forest as white oaks.

3. Black Oak
Quercus velutina

Beech Family (Fagaceae)

black oak trunk

Black Oaks have a spreading shape and grow from  60’1 to 80’3 tall  with a trunk diameter of 3-4’3 but can grow up to 100’ with a diameter of 5’3.  The leaves are 4-10”3 with bristle tips and shallower lobes when compared to the scarlet oak.   A distinguishing characteristic is its blackish outer bark contrasted with orange inner bark that is marked by deep long ridges1.  The acorns are ¾” in size with a rounded shallow cup/cap that flattens out at the bottom.  They grow in sandy, rocky and clay soils typically and can be found in hillsides and upland areas.

Black Oak Leaves

4. Pin Oak (aka. Swamp Oak2)
Quercus palustrispinoakseedling

Beech Family (Fagaceae)

Pin Oaks usually reach heights of 601 to 80’2,3 with a diameter for 2-3’3, but 110’3 is possible.  The name Pin Oak is derived from the small dead branches that extend from the trunk that resemble pins3.   Height: 60’(1), 70-80’ (2,3), up to 110’(3).  Pin Oaks have a spreading crown with the lower branches sloping down toward the ground 2,3.  The 3-7”1,2,3 leaves have hair on the bottom2 are have deep lobes that are spaced far apart.  The lobes have been described as “bristle-tipped”2.

Pin Oaks have dark grey bark that is coarse and scaly.  The acorns are 1/2” in size with a round shallow cap/cup.  You can find Pin Oaks in wet locations along rivers and streams, but I have seen mature trees growing fine in a mulched parking lot island.

pinoakcanopy Pinoakbark

  1. Alden, P., Cassie, B. (1998). National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, inc..

2. Reader’s Digest (1982). North American Wildlife. Pleasantville, N.Y.: Reader’s Digest Association

3. Petrides, G.A. (1988). Peterson Field Guides: Eastern Trees. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company

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