Northern red oak

Chêne rouge

Quercus rubra L.Fagaceae (beech family)

Origin: Eastern North America (native in Ontario)


Northern red oak is a medium-large tree with a straight trunk and a rounded to irregular crown.

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Leaves have bristle-tipped pinnate lobes with rounded sinuses between the lobes.

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Male and female flowers are separate, the tiny male flowers clustered in dangling catkins.

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Fruits are acorns with hairless, saucer-shaped cups covered with brown scales.

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Northern red oak is a medium-large tree, up to 25 m (82') or more in height and 120 cm (47") in diameter on very old trees.

Trunks are straight and the crown of mature trees is rounded or irregular. Open-grown trees have wide-spreading lower branches.

Bark on young trees is smooth and grey with some lighter vertical lines.

As the tree ages, the bark develops shallow, dark furrows which separate long grey ridges.

Twigs are hairless, reddish-brown, with light-coloured lenticels (pores). Buds clustered at the tip of the branch are smooth, shiny reddish-brown, 6 - 8 mm (1/4") long, with pointed tips.

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Leaves are 10 - 20 cm (4" - 8") long, with 7 - 9 pointed, bristle-tipped, pinnate lobes with rounded sinuses between the lobes, and a wedge-shaped base.

Leaves and branchlets have an alternate arrangement.

Leaves turn bronze to red in the fall and often remain on the tree during winter.

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Male and female flowers are borne separately on the same tree.

Tiny green male (pollen) flowers are borne on catkins 10 - 13 cm (4" - 5") long, emerging along with the leaves.

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, 12 - 28 mm (1/2" - 1") long and almost as wide when mature. An acorn consists of a reddish-brown nut, 1/4 to 1/3 of which is covered by its cup.

The woody cup is hairless, saucer-shaped and covered with brown scales

Acorns grow singly or in small clusters in the axils of the leaves. They take two years to mature.

Acorns mature from green to reddish-brown and fall in October of the second year.

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Northern red oak is common in the mixed- and deciduous forests of eastern North America. It was exported to Europe in 1724 where it has become naturalized.

Derivation of names

The genus name, Quercus, is the classical Latin name for the oaks. The species name, rubra, is from the Latin for red.

Official status

Northern red oak is the provincial tree of Prince Edward Island and the state tree of New Jersey.

Commercial use

The wood of northern red oak is hard and strong. It is used for making flooring, furniture, railroad ties and veneers.


Northern red oaks sprout easily from the base of their trunks. If a tree is cut down, or falls over, it may not be fully dead and new sprouts may regenerate from the stump.

Wildlife value

Northern red oak acorns are a source of food for small mammals as well as blue jays, white-tailed deer, and black bears. Cavities and hollow trunks, common in older trees, provide shelter and nesting sites for many birds and mammals.

Related species

Oaks are divided into two main groups by their leaf shape. Trees in the white oak group have either unlobed leaves with large teeth or leaves with rounded lobes while trees in the red oak group have leaves with pointed, bristle-tipped lobes.

Other members of the red oak group include black oak (Quercus velutina), pin oak (Quercus palustris), and Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii). Northern red oaks are most frequently confused with black oaks because each species is very variable and the two share many features.

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Northern red oak IN TORONTO

Northern red oak's place in Toronto's urban forest

There are still a few very old northern red oaks in Toronto which may date back to the oak-pine forests that covered the Toronto region prior to European settlement. Trees Ontario recognizes several specimens as heritage trees. Heritage northern red oaks may be seen in the Wychwood Park neighbourhood and in the neighbourhood near Summerlea Park, which is adjacent to the location of the historic Carrying Place trail -- a route that was used by Aboriginal peoples for travel well before European settlement.

Northern red oak is plentiful in many Toronto ravines where it tends to grow on dry, sunny sites, like the tops of hillsides. Red oaks have been planted in various parts of the city, including Queen's Park where they have survived for many years and now represent some of downtown Toronto's oldest and most majestic trees. Some trees are living artifacts of outdated forestry practices, such as topping, where the tops of trees are cut off, stunting their vertical growth.

Landscape value and potential for home planting

One of the fastest growing oaks, northern red oak is tolerant of urban conditions and is a popular tree for urban planting. It can grow in a variety of habitats, but does well in dry, open sunny sites with acidic soils.

Its canopy, which is not too dense, is suitable for shade while still allowing some light through. It resists most diseases and pests and transplants easily.

Pests and diseases: Some northern red oaks may be afflicted with leaf galls, which are swollen deformations of plant tissue caused by parasites. One of the most damaging pests for northern red oak is the gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), which is not native to North America. Gypsy moths defoliate the tree and leave a tell-tale white frass on the tree. If only one defoliation occurs, the tree can recover, but will be weakened; if a tree is repeatedly defoliated, it may die. The City conducts aerial spraying in years predicted to have heavy infestations of gypsy moth. For more information on pests affecting red oak, see Natural Resources Canada fact sheet.

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

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WHERE CAN I SEE Northern red oak?

Find trees on Tree Tour maps at Canadian Tree Tours:

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