Red oak is a large, formidable landscape and timber tree. Leaves are alternate and simple, with shallow, sharply tipped lobes and red petioles. The leaves are dull green and smooth above, and light green and slightly hairy below. Flowers are typical oak catkins, either male or female, female flowers developing into acorns clustered in groups of 2-5. The leaves turn dark red in the fall providing wonderful autumn color. The name “red oak” comes from the red petioles, reddish interior wood, and red fall colors.
Red oak makes hard, heavy wood and is an important timber species used for furniture, veneers, interior finishing, and railroad ties. Its acorns also provided an important food source for Native Americans across the continent. Red oak is popular ornamental tree and can be found in many parks and gardens, although its fast developing, deep taproot can make it difficult to transplant. This particular red oak is one of many planted across the University of Minnesota’s campus.
Red oak is part of the Red Oak group, or the section of the Quercus genus known as Sect. Lobatae. Oaks in the red oak group often have the pointed tips of red oak, making it an excellent example tree for the larger group.
Red oak is particularly susceptible to oak wilt, a disease caused by the fungus Ceratocystis fagacearum. The disease can be lethal and spreads quite quickly, often through wounds from pruning. The disease is most active in the spring, hence the phrase “Don’t prune May or June.”