Bur oak

A mature bur oak tree.

The stately bur oak, native to the Midwest, is a great choice as a shade tree and for specimen plantings in parks, spacious yards, and other large areas. Its massive trunk has gray to brown furrowed bark and its branches bear lustrous dark green leaves that turn yellow-brown in fall. Large acorns with fringed caps attract birds and small mammals.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. 

 

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

 

Botanical name:

Quercus macrocarpa

All Common Names:

bur oak

Family (English):

Beech; Oak

Family (Botanic):

Fagaceae

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree

Foliage:

  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks,
  • City parkway,
  • Wide median

Landscape Uses:

  • Parkway/street,
  • Shade tree,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)

Mature Height:

70-80 feet

Mature Width:

70-80 feet

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 3,
  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8

Soil Preference:

  • Alkaline soil,
  • Dry soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil

Acid Soils:

  • Tolerant

Alkaline Soils:

  • Prefers

Salt Spray:

  • Intolerant

Soil Salt:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Drought Conditions:

  • Tolerant

Poor Drainage:

  • Tolerant

Planting Considerations:

  • Messy fruit/plant parts

Season of Interest:

  • Early fall,
  • Mid fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous

Shape or Form:

  • Irregular,
  • Round

Growth Rate:

  • Slow,
  • Moderate

Transplants Well:

  • Yes

Wildlife:

  • Game birds,
  • Game mammals,
  • Migrant birds,
  • Small mammals

More Information:

Tree & Plant Care

Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
photo: John Hagstrom

Full sun in well drained soil, but adaptable to many soils. Drought tolerant once established.
Prune oaks in the dormant season to avoid attracting beetles that may carry oak wilt.

Disease, pests, and problems

Can be affected by pests such as the leaf galls and kermes scale.  
Anthracnose, bacterial leaf scorch, and powdery mildew.  Oak wilt is a serious disease of oaks.
Bur oak blight has been found in isolated areas in Illinois.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 5

Commonly found in upland savannas.

Bark color and texture 

Mature bark is dark gray to brown with deep furrows.

Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
photo: John Hagstrom
Stems are stout and smooth but young twigs can be develop corky ridges. 

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate leaf arrangement.
Large, 4 to 10 inch long leaves with 5 to 7 rounded lobes. The terminal lobe can be fiddle-shaped.
Leaves are lustrous, dark green above with lighter silvery green beneath.
Fall color is yellow-brown.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Male flowers hang down in drooping catkins, female flowers are small spikes in leaf axils.  Not ornamentally important.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Large, 2 inch diameter, fringed acorns. The conspicuous fringe covers most of the nut. Fruit ripens in the fall.

Cultivars and their differences

“This plant is a cultivar of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits."

Urban Pinnacle® (Quercus macrocarpa 'JFS-KW3):  Form is narrow and pyramidal (25 feet wide). Summer foliage is glossy dark green, changing to yellow in fall.  Acorns are much smaller than typical for bur oak.  Resistant to powdery mildew and anthracnose.

 

Related hybrids

Heritage® Macdaniel's oak (Quercus x macdaniellii 'Clemson'): This is a hybrid between Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) and English oak (Quercus robur).  The dark green foliage of this hybrid is resistant to powdery mildew.  Fall color is yellow.

 

Location of Quercus macrocarpa (Bur oak) at the Arboretum