20+ Types of Oak Tree (Different Species of Oak Trees) - PlantSnap

20+ Types of Oak Tree (Different Species of Oak Trees)

by | Jan 17, 2021

Oak trees are beloved and well-recognized trees around the globe. With over 500 living species, interesting facts and relationships are as abundant as the squirrel-forgot acorns beneath the ground. Today we’ll be exploring different types of oak trees, detailing their botanical names, growing preferences, and other distinguishing tidbits. 




Oak trees are indigenous to North America and Asia. Different species are evergreen or deciduous and range from temperate climate zones through tropical latitudes throughout the Northern Hemisphere. 

While not definitive, the evolutionary record includes reports of Quercus fossils dating all the way back to the Late Cretaceous period: 100 million to 66 million years ago. The word “oak” is ancient enough to have no certain origin but is found in Old English and Old Norse, both from Proto-German. The importance of the oak is indicated through Indo-European languages as it was at times used to refer to as “trees” in general. Clearly, these trees have been monarchs of the forest throughout time for many people. Even today, oaks are associated with strength, wisdom, resistance, and morals

A distinct feature of oak trees within ecosystems is often their height: they can grow up to 100 feet tall. It can be hard to spot the details of the leaves from that distance, but Quercus leaves showcase distinct lobed, toothed, and entire margins that are usually easy to separate from other trees in the forest. 

Speaking of the other trees in the forest: there are also plenty of plants that feature the title “oak” in their common name but are not actually members of the Quercus genus. These include African oak, Australian oak, poison oak, she-oak, and tulip oak, among others. These are all interesting plants in their own right, though we will not be focusing on these “imposters” today. 

People revere oak trees in the forest and also intentionally plant them for various uses. Certain species of oaks can withstand sandy soils, which makes them a good option for the desired shade tree – as long as it’s not planted too close to any structures or pipes! Other uses for oak, a hardwood, include timber framing, floors, furniture, and wine barrels


Types of Oak Trees


Types of Oak Trees


Listed below are over 20 types of oak trees with details about each oak species, with a focus on those growing in North America. They are organized alphabetically by common name. Perhaps you’ll recognize some of these species from your own neighborhood. Tree identification can be tricky, especially during the winter months, but knowing the various traits of these tree species can make all the difference in understanding and connecting to your surroundings.


Black Oak (Quercus velutina)


Native region: Eastern and Central North America 

Defining features: A relatively small oak with an open, spreading crown. Its leaves are alternate: shiny and green on top, lower and lighter-hued on the bottom side. Buds are velvety to touch and covered in soft hairs. It is a monoecious plant. 

Growing preferences: Prefers moist soil and thrives in coves and slopes. 

Interesting fact: Also known as a “yellow oak” because of the yellow pigment found in the inner bark. 

Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica)


Native region: Eastern and Central United States

Defining features: A small tree with orange fissures in the bark. The leaves flare out into a three-lobed bell shape. 

Growing preferences: Able to grow in poor, sandy soils where few other plants thrive. 

Interesting fact: Blackjack oaks are considered “understory” trees and their wood is an excellent heat source for barbeques. 


Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) 


Native region: North America 

Defining features: A large deciduous tree, and one of the more massive oak species. The leaves are wide with lobed edges. 

Growing preferences: Typically grows in more open areas, away from forest canopies. Their thick bark is fire-tolerant. They prefer and thrive in temperate areas. 

Interesting fact: Also known as a “mossycup” plant and has the largest acorns of any oak tree type. 


Cherrybark Oak (Quercus pagoda)


Cherrybark Oak (Quercus pagoda)


Native region: North America, with a disjunct distribution. 

Defining features: The leaves have a tiered shape with alternate leaves. The bark is grey and ridged. 

Growing preferences: Prefers loamy soil

Interesting fact: Cherrybark oak is a highly valued tree because of its timber. 


Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana)


Native region: United States

Defining features: A member of the white oak group, this tree is easiest to distinguish through its large, ridged bark, which is dark grey in color. The leaves are shallowly lobed. 

Growing preferences: Often found growing on ridgetops

Interesting fact: This species is an important canopy tree in an oak-heath forest. 

Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii)


Native region: North America 

Defining features: A medium-sized oak with glistening green leaves

Growing preferences: Able to grow in a variety of soil types and prefers full sun. 

Interesting fact: Chinkapin acorns are the preferred food of turkeys. 


Common Oak or English Oak (Quercus robur)


Native region: Europe

Defining features: A large and long-lived tree, it has lobed leaves with very short stems. 

Growing preferences: Is very adaptable to different soils in temperate climates, but prefers full sun, fertile, and well-watered areas. 

Interesting fact: Common oaks support the highest diversity of insect herbivores of any British plant. 


Evergreen Oak (Quercus ilex)


Evergreen Oak (Quercus ilex)


Native region: Mediterranean region of Europe 

Defining features: An evergreen tree of large size, with a huge head of dense branches. Younger shoots appear to be covered in greyish velvet. The leaves are usually oval in shape

Growing preferences: Grows in stands or as part of mixed forest. It is considered an invasive plant in the United Kingdom. 

Interesting fact: Its acorns mature in a single summer. 


Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)


Native region: Endemic to the Southeastern United States. 

Defining features: The Southern live oak is not a true evergreen tree, though it does keep its leaves for most of the year. The bark is thick and dark brown. 

Growing preferences: Well-drained soil and plenty of moisture. 

Interesting fact: Many people consider this tree to be iconic of the “deep south,” in states such as Georgia. The branches frequently support other flora including the parasitic plant, mistletoe. 

Overcup Oak (Quercus lyrata)


Native region: Eastern and South Central United States 

Defining features: Can showcase brilliant red or grey-brown bark. Leaves are green and leathery and mature trees have an open crown

Growing preferences: Able to tolerate most soil conditions and can thrive in part-shade to full sun. 

Interesting fact: Overcup oaks are one of the most flood-tolerant trees in North America. 


Pin Oak Or Swamp Spanish Oak (Quercus palustris)


Native region: North America 

Defining features: Pyramidal in shape, with broad leaves of 5-7 lobes.  

Growing preferences: A fast-growing oak that tolerates wet soil and prefers full sun

Interesting fact: This plant tolerates pollution and is a popular landscaping addition. 


Post Oak (Quercus stellata)


Native region: North America 

Defining features: This is a slow-growing and small trees with lobed leaves that are terminally perpendicular.

Growing preferences: Often found in dry areas – near fields, and the top of ridges, or at campsites

Interesting fact: “Stellata” in the botanical name of this species is Latin for “star,” which is in reference to the leaves’ trichome-shaped hairs. 


Northern Red Oak Tree (Quercus rubra)


Native region: Midwest region of the United States.

Defining features: Leaves have 7-11 lobes, are bristle-tipped, and turn red in autumn. 

Growing preferences: Well-drained, moist acidic soil with part-shade to full sun exposure. 

Interesting fact: It is one of the few plants that are tolerant of black walnut toxicity

Southern Red Oak or Spanish Oak (Quercus falcata)


Native region: North America 

Defining features: A medium-sized oak with a straight trunk, long spreading branches, and thin, papery bristle-tipped leaves. 

Growing preferences: It prefers dry soil and needs at least part-shade to thrive. 

Interesting fact: This tree attracts butterflies and is a larval host for two species of moth


Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)


Native region: Midwest region of North America 

Defining features: Known (and named) for its bright red autumn leaves, this ruby-like member of the Fagaceae family is an oval or pyramidal tree that would be hard to miss, depending on the season. 

Growing preferences: dry soil, part-shade to full sun. 

Interesting fact: Scarlet oaks are difficult to transplant because of their long taproots


Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea)


Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea)


Native region: Europe and the Middle East

Defining features: Leaves are dark green and lobed with an undulate margin. 

Growing preferences: It a tolerant tree, but requires a lot of water

Interesting fact: This species often hybridizes with English oaks and is the national tree of Ireland. 


Shingle Oak (Quercus imbricaria


Native region: Eastern and Central United States. 

Defining features: 50-60 feet tall with light brown, scaly bark. Leaves are alternate and oblong, usually 4-6 inches in length. 

Growing preferences: Full sun with medium water needs. 

Interesting fact: Considered a low-maintenance tree. 


Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii)


Native region: North America 

Defining features: A pyramidal tree, Shumards have smooth, grey bark with lobed leaves that turn scarlet in the fall. 

Growing preferences: Part-shade to full sun, cold-tolerant with medium level water needs. 

Interesting fact: It is a very similar species to the Spanish oak, but prefers deeper soils. 

Water Oak (Quercus nigra)


Native region: Eastern and the South-Central United States. 

Defining features: Leaves are alternate and, while still deciduous, hang on the branches for longer periods than other trees in the forest. The leaves are often a bluish-green tint when compared to other oak species. 

Growing preferences: As the name suggests, this oak is adapted to wet areas and serves a similar ecological purpose as the weeping willow tree. 

Interesting fact: Water oaks are short-lived compared to other oak species. 


White Oak Tree (Quercus alba)


Native region: Eastern and Central United States

Defining features: Named for its bark, its color is more of light gray until it is harvested as lumber. White oaks can grow to 100 feet tall and are long-lived oaks – reaching up to 450 years old. In the spring, its oak leaves are covered in a silvery-pink down. 

Growing preferences: Tolerant of various habitats and is mainly a lowland tree, though it also grows on ridges and thrives in the Appalachian Mountains. 

Interesting fact: Businesses and individuals use the lumber of white oak to make wine-barrels and banjos. 


Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)


Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)


Native region: North America 

Defining features: Leaves are alternate and simple, between 2-5 inches long with a bristle tip. 

Growing preferences: Thrives in moist, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic. Full sun is best for this species. 

Interesting fact: This type of oak has very small acorns – 1/4 to 1/2 inch across


Edible Acorns


It’s not just the squirrels that can delight in the acorns of the oak tree – with the right knowledge, acorns are also a forageable food. Humans have been enjoying acorns for thousands of years and they are an ancestral food of many indigenous groups who continue to keep their gathering and cooking traditions alive. For example, it is estimated that at one point, a typical family of the Yokut tribe of now so-called California consumed 1,000-2,000 pounds of acorns a year. 

The acorn can be used as an ingredient in porridge, soup, and bread. Oak trees were such an important food source, that tribes maintained “orchards” of oak trees, planting in rows, an example of agroforestry. It led some European explorers and settlers to believe that oak trees preferred to grow in straight lines, as they did not understand or respect indigenous foodways. 

When it comes to foraging acorns and experimenting with ways to consume the nutritional benefits and strong tannins, it is important to consult trusted sources on wild edibles and cooking practices. Let’s just say that there’s a lot of ways to go wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing. It isn’t as easy as finding a clean-looking acorn on the forest floor and popping it in your mouth. 

It’s easiest to harvest acorns from September through November when they naturally fall to the ground. However, you will be in direct competition with the deer and squirrels who are excellent foragers themselves. 

Forage in a safe area – away from roads, gas stations, and places where chemicals and pesticides may have been used, leaked, or dumped. Select mature acorns with their tops still in place. If you have the extra time, consider collecting and storing the acorns in a cool, dry place for one year. This allows the acorns to dry out and it will make it easier for you to work with them. 

To enjoy these tasty morsels and the vitamin C, A, protein, and fiber they provide, you’ll need to wash and leach the acorns and then chose to either roast, grind, or freeze them. Acorns have extremely bitter-tasting tannins in their composition, so you need to prep them before eating. Again, consult experienced foragers in your area for techniques and recipes. This sort of engagement with the natural world can be a powerful antidote to the disconnection and anxiety of our times. 


types of oak trees


Oak Trees in Our Lives


Oaks are literal and metaphorical presences in many of our lives, shaping society and supporting both squirrels and overall forest health. How we engage with our surroundings and learn to recognize and connect with the ecosystems around us can have positive ripple effects on our well-being as both individuals and communities. Plants are part of who we are, and there’s plenty more to learn and observe in both the towering grandfather oaks as well as the tiniest acorn.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.