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TREES & plants

Scarlet oak

Summer foliage of scarlet oak.

True to its name, the scarlet oak produces wonderful scarlet fall color. This tree is best used in residential yards rather than as a street tree.

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 coccinea
All Common Names: 
scarlet oak
Family (English): 
Beech
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
Landscape Uses: 
  • Shade tree, 
  • Specimen
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)
Mature Height: 
40-75 feet
Mature Width: 
40-75 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil, 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Prefers
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Intolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Intolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Tolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Intolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • Messy fruit/plant parts
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Fall color
Season of Interest: 
  • Mid fall, 
  • Late fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Oval, 
  • Pyramidal
Growth Rate: 
  • Moderate
Transplants Well: 
  • Yes
Wildlife: 
  • Mammals, 
  • Migrant birds
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

Difficult to transplant due to a deep taproot.
Prune oaks in the dormant season to avoid attracting beetles that may carry oak wilt.

Disease, pests, and problems

Oak wilt is a potential disease problem.
Insect pests include scale and two-lined chestnut borer.
Galls caused by mites or insects are common, but not harmful.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to North America, including a few counties in Illinois.
Commonly found in dry, upland sites.

Bark color and texture 

Bark is smooth and dark gray in youth, maturing to shallowly fissured.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate leaves with deep sinuses and bristle-tipped lobes; 3 to 6 inches long.
Dark green in summer, changing to scarlet in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Male flowers in dangling catkins; female flowers smaller and held close to the stem.  Not ornamentally important.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Acorns, 1/2 to 1 inch long topped with a cap that encloses 1/2 to 1/3 of the nut.  Borne singly or in pairs.

Quercus coccinea or Scarlet oak