English oak

Chêne pédonculé

Quercus robur L.Fagaceae (beech family)

Origin: Europe


English oak is a medium-large tree with a large, stout trunk, thick branches and a broad, full, sometimes uneven crown.

Read more about Tree, Bark, Twigs


Leaves have 3 - 7 rounded pinnate lobes per side and 2 tiny lobes at the base on either side of the very short leaf stalk.

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Male and female flowers are borne separately on the same tree, the tiny male flowers clustered in dangling catkins.

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Fruits are long narrow acorns with a small cup borne on a long stalk.

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English oak is a medium-large tree, up to 25 - 35 m (82' - 114') with thick branches, a broad, full crown that is sometimes uneven, and a large stout trunk.

The cultivated variety Fastigiata has a tight, columnar shape.

Bark on older trees has broad dark grey plates separated by deep furrows.

Twigs are greenish-brown with a powdery bloom. As with most oaks, the lateral buds angle out from a broadening of the twig that is like a shelf.

Buds are reddish-brown, 7 - 9 mm (1/4" - 3/4") long, with rounded tips, clustered in a small group at the tip of the twig.

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Leaves are small, 5 - 12 cm (2" - 4 3/4") long, with 3 - 7 rounded pinnate lobes per side and very short leaf stalks.

At the base of the leaf, on either side of the leaf stalk, are 2 small lobes that resemble ear lobes.

Leaves have an alternate arrangement on the branch.

In fall, leaves turn light brown and may remain on the tree during winter.

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Male and female flowers are borne separately on the same tree, emerging along with the leaves.

Tiny green male (pollen) flowers are borne on catkins 2 - 4 cm (3/4" - 1 1/2") long.

Very tiny red female (seed) flowers are borne singly or in small clusters in the leaf axils on new twigs.

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Fruits are acorns, 15 - 40 mm (5/8" - 1 1/2") long. Each acorn consists of a long narrow nut, 1/4 to 1/3 of which is covered by its cup.

Acorns are borne in clusters of 2 - 5 on a single long stalk 3 - 8 cm (1 1/8" - 3 1/8") long. They mature in the fall.

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English oak is native to Europe and western Asia. It has been widely planted as a cultivated tree in North America since colonial times and has become naturalized in parts of eastern North America and British Columbia.

Human history

Only 500 years ago, one third of England was covered in forests dominated by oak trees, particularly English oak and Durmast oak (Quercus petraea). Many of these trees, especially the larger ones with strong limbs, were felled to build England's fleet of sailing ships. Those trees with bent or crooked limbs were highly valued because their wood was already the ideal shape for specific ship parts. The wood of these species was also used for panelling in castles, churches, and other large buildings.

English oak has also played a role in European folklore. Legend says that King Arthur's round table was the cross-section of a massive oak tree. English oak is also the majestic tree of Sherwood Forest in the stories of Robin Hood. English oak is also reputed to be the tree in which King Charles II hid from Parliamentarians during the 17th century English Civil War.


English oak is very slow-growing and can live for hundreds, even thousands of years and attain a very large size. The oldest English oaks on record are estimated to be up to 2,000 years old. Their centres have decayed, as happens with many species of oak, but they remain strong.

Related species

Oaks are divided into two main groups primarily by their leaf shape. Trees in the red oak group have leaves with pointed, bristle-tipped lobes while those in the white oak group have either unlobed leaves with large teeth or leaves with rounded lobes. English oak belongs to the white oak group, along with white oak (Quercus alba), swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor), and bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa).

Human use

The acorns of English oak are edible and have been used by European farmers as pig feed. During times of scarcity, peasants dried the kernel inside the acorn and ground it up to make a nutritious flour. The bark of English oak has also been used as a source of tannin for tanning leather.

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English oak IN TORONTO

English oak's place in Toronto's urban forest

English oak has been planted in Toronto since European settlement and has been a popular park tree for decades. A royal oak, the alternative name for English oak, was planted in honour of King George VI at Coronation Park in a ceremony on Coronation Day, 12 May 1937. Read about the history of this tree and the 150 other trees that were planted in circles around it here.

Landscape value and potential for home planting

English oaks in their natural form are only suitable for large, open areas such as parks, however there are various cultivated varieties suitable for smaller spaces including 'Fastigiata,' which has a tight, columnar crown. English oak grows best in sunny sites with well-drained soil.

Pests and diseases: This species is susceptible to mildew and anthracnose. Mildew will be evident as a moldy coating on the leaves and flowers while anthracnose causes leaf spots, browning leaves, and defoliation.

This tree is available for planting through the City of Toronto's street tree program.

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WHERE CAN I SEE English oak?

Find trees on Tree Tour maps at Canadian Tree Tours:

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