Northern red oak

Summer foliage of red oak.

Northern red oak is native to the Midwest and is one of the faster growing oaks for the home landscape. The leaves are handsome throughout the year, emerging pinkish-red, turning lustrous dark green in summer, and changing to russet-red to bright red in autumn. Its tolerance of salt and air pollution makes it a good tree for more exposed areas.

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.  

Botanical name:

Quercus rubra

All Common Names:

northern red oak, red 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:

60-75 feet

Mature Width:

60-75 feet

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

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

Soil Preference:

  • Acid soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil

Acid Soils:

  • Tolerant

Alkaline Soils:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Salt Spray:

  • Intolerant

Soil Salt:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Drought Conditions:

  • Tolerant

Poor Drainage:

  • Tolerant

Planting Considerations:

  • Messy fruit/plant parts

Ornamental Interest:

  • Fall color

Season of Interest:

  • Early fall,
  • Mid fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous

Shape or Form:

  • Round

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate

Transplants Well:

  • Yes

Wildlife:

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

More Information:

Northern red oak (Quercus rubra)
Northern red oak (Quercus rubra)
photo: John Hagstrom

Tree & Plant Care

Prefers a well-drained, rich woodland site. Best in sandy, loam soil.
Tolerant of air pollution and salt.
Prune oaks in the dormant season to avoid attracting beetles that may carry oak wilt.

Disease, pests, and problems

The Northern red oak develops chlorosis symptoms in high pH soils.  
All oaks are suceptible to oak wilt.
Galls and mites are common insects, but not harmful.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-value: 7
Native to eastern and south-central North America.

Bark color and texture 

Young trunk and branches grayish turning dark gray with age.
Mature bark is bark gray with flat-topped ridges. Lower bark can be blocky or furrowed.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate, simple leaves with 7 to 11 lobes. Each lobe has a bristle tip.
Dull dark green upper surface and slightly paler beneath in summer changing to a russet red to bright red fall color.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Borne separately on same tree. Male flowers are hanging catkins, female flowers are tiny spikes in the axils of the new leaves.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Acorns are medium brown, 3/4" to 1 inch long, and barrel-shaped. The cap is thin, flat, with appressed scales barely enclosing 1/4 of the nut.

Location of Quercus rubra (Northern red oak) at the Arboretum