Oaks are among the most popular and common trees spread throughout north America. Worldwide, there are over 300 species, and another several hundred hybrids. In the US, there are about 70 species of trees and shrub-form Oaks.
Those planted in the landscape design are usually for shade, as many can become huge and massive. Other trees are short and narrow shaped, and can be trees that accent a small space, whereas other oaks are shrubby that can become a low-maintenance screen. Oaks vary from slow growth to medium growth, and most are typically long-lived. The wood is dense on all types, making them excellent for the fireplace.
The Oaks are part of the Beech Family (Fagaceae), and the Genus is called Quercus. The Beech Family also includes the Beech, Chinkapins, Tanoaks, and the Chestnuts.
Most of the oaks are deciduous, and the few evergreen types are typically more warmer-climate range. The winter leaf buds are clustered at the ends of the twigs with tight overlapping bud scales. The leaves vary between thick and leathery to thin and papery, either pointed lobed or rounded lobes in shape, and all with prominent veins on the underside of the leaf.
The characteristic fruit of the oak is the acorn, technically a nut.
Flowers of the oaks are monoecious (separate male and female) but found on the same tree. The female flowers are solitary and few, inconspicuous, but the male have clusters of hanging yellowish catkins that results in frequent spring clean up.
The acorns mature either in one season or two, all have hard shells, either a stiff point or rounded, and a cup-like structure of overlapping scales that attaches the seed to the twig. The seeds are usually bitter from the high tannic acid content, and
many of the native peoples have used acorns as an important food source.
One of the more interesting taxonomic classifications of the oaks is the division of the genus into two sub-genera, the White Oaks and the Black (or Red) Oaks.
The Red (or Black) Oaks, with the sub-genus Erythrobalanus, Are characterized by leaves that have points or
bristle-tipped, acorns maturing in the second season, bark that is more blackish and furrowed, and heartwood that has open vessels.
The other sub-genus, the White Oaks or Lepidobalanus, have rounded leaf lobes, acorns that typically mature in a one
season, bark that is more white or gray with scales, an heartwood vessels that are closed.
Granted, examining the inner wood is not easily done, and bark tends to be a poor or less reliable indicator, but certainly the leaves will distinguish the two major groupings.
For landscaping, the best use is to plant oaks for shade. The oaks typically, and those that we sell, are the large wide-spreading shade trees. As a firewood, oak is hard and burns long with a very high btu rating. And of course oak wood makes incredible cabinets, flooring, furniture, and other products.
How to grow these. Some oaks do well with wetter soils, others prefer drier, but overall, these grow best in moist well-drained fertile soils with full sun. Most soils can be alright, but plenty of water and some added fertilizer will improve their growth and survival. If your soils are rocky, heavy clay, or very sandy, then add compost or other materials mixed into the planting spot. Planting instructions are included with each order, or can be read on the main Nursery webpage.
Among the Black Oaks is the Northern Red Oak (Q. rubra). The Northern Red,
not to be confused with the Southern Red Oak (Q. falcata var. falcata), has a natural range from Minnesota to Arkansas to Georgia and up to New Foundland. These are rated as a Zone 4 to 8, but likely can go into Zones 3 and 9 as well. The
pointed leaves turn a nice scarlet color in the Fall, and grows in partial shade, but prefers full sun. These are common
among the Hickories, Beech, and Maple throughout the heart of its range. The growth rate is slow to medium, averaging one to two feet a year, but faster growth is possible as well.
In the White Oak group is the named tree, White Oak (Q. alba). Similar to the Red Oak, the natural range of the White extends across much of the same area, just further south into eastern Texas across to northern Florida, then not as far north, to southern Maine and across to southern Minnesota. These would be a Zone 4 to 9, and equally prefers full sun. The leaves have rounded lobes, and not greatly admired for fall color. The Whites are commonly mixed among the other hardwoods of the east, and also have a slow to medium growth rate.
The oaks can be huge and massive trees, especially those older specimens found across the entire east half of the country. The oaks are typically shallow-rooted, with huge anchor roots, many close to the surface, so planting near buildings, streets, an other sensitive areas should be given plenty of space. The wood is sturdy and dense, and broken limbs are prone to insects and diseases, requiring tree-paint. But as a tree of great presence, those of the Quercus genus are an excellent choice.
Of the White Oaks:
Swamp Chestnut Oak
Of the Red Oaks:
Northern Red Oak
Southern Red Oak
Cherry Bark Oak
Our current offerings, check out the Catalog, under the Hardwoods section...
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Last Update: 10/10/2015
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