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Author Topic: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)  (Read 13827 times)

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Offline WDH

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Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« on: April 19, 2007, 11:16:44 PM »
One of the very common southern oaks.  In the red oak group.  On the best sites, capable of producing very good grade lumber.  On poorer sites, the grade is marginal.  It is sort of in the middle of the quality spectrum for southern oaks.  Not as good as cherrybark or shumard, but better than black, water, willow, laurel, scarlet, blackjack, etc.

The Key Characteristics:

Probably the most distinctive feature is the leaf.  The shade leaf is called the "Bell and Clapper" because the base of the leaf is rounded and looks like a bell.  There is usually one long terminal lobe that looks just like the clapper in a bell.

The sun leaves also have the bell shaped base, but there are more lobes than just the one at the tip.

The tips of the lobes sweep back at an angle that resembles a falcon's wing.  This shape is called "falcate" or falcon shaped.  Thus, the origin of falcata in the scientific name.

Probably the second most distinctive feature is the two toned color of the leaf from upper side to under side.  There is a striking color difference between the deep shiny green of the upper side of the leaf in contrast to the tawny light brown of the under side.  This contrast is so distinctive that when the wind blows the leaves, they flash as the wind exposes the under sides.  You can be driving down the road at highway speed and easily identify this oak at 60 MPH from the flashing of the two tones of the leaves.  Very similar to the same characteristic that you see in red maple with the almost silvery under side of the leaf that flashes in the wind.

The Bell and Clapper leaf:



Another pic of several shade leaves showing the bell and clapper shape.  Also note the color contrast between the upper side of the leaf and the lower side of the leaf.



Here are the sun leaves with more lobes.  Also note the color contrast.



A pic showing both shade leaves and sun leaves.  Note the sun leaves have more lobes.



The Bark:

The bark is a dark gray to black in the oldest stems.  There can be some streaking, but it is usually not pronounced.  Many stems have no streaking at all. 

The bark is rough and fissured.  One distinctive feature you see in southern red oak bark is silver or light patches or silver horizontal banding.  There are several species that will show this banding, but it is most common in southern red oak and cherrybark oak.

Here is a large specimen.  Note the camera case for scale.  You can clearly see the dark fissured bark.  Also note there are some silver patches visible.



A younger stem with no obvious banding.  It is not alway there, or sometimes there is just one higher up the stem.



Here are a couple of pics that clearly show the horizontal banding.




Remember, those bell and clapper shade leaves are the dead giveaway.  Some people think that sun southern red oak leaves and sun black oak leaves look alike.  They don't :o.  Black oak does not have the bell shaped base and the color of the leaf in black oak is the same top and bottom.  The shapes of the lobes are similar, but the color contrast easily separates them in about 1 second.  If the leaf is the same color on both sides, it is never southern red oak.
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Offline DanG

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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #1 on: April 20, 2007, 11:26:19 PM »
Hmmm.  24 hours without a response.  Could it be that there is no interest?  Nahhhh, not a chance!  The characteristics are so well covered that questions are hard to come by.  The only question I can come up with is, what is the range of the SRO?  How far South, and how far North do they commonly appear?
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Offline Larry

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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2007, 06:45:27 AM »
I printed WDHs post and stuck it in my tree book so I can learn to identify the tree.  Best description of SRO I have seen and thanks WDH.

I too have a question.  Always heard norther red oak lumber is far superior to SRO.  Having no personal experience with SRO I dont know if this is fact, or one of those Yankee rumors.
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Offline scgargoyle

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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2007, 07:24:59 AM »
Once again, it appears as though I have those on my property. I was amazed by the variety of trees I found- is that common? I don't remember offhand how big the SRO were, but I recognize the bark, and I definitely have leaves like that in my small collection. One good thing about my oaks- they are very tall and straight, with clean trunks a long ways up- probably b/c they are fairly close together. Not much 'character' as individual specimens, but good for lumber purposes. I have an OT question- if you clear an area, but leave a few specimen trees, are they more prone to blow down in a storm?
I hope my ship comes in before the dock rots!

Offline Riles

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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #4 on: April 21, 2007, 08:30:25 AM »
A large diversity of species on your property is a good thing and is an indicator of:

1. Lack of management. Nature will diversify to fill the niches.
2. You live in the south. Biological growth rates are higher in warmer climates, and diversity will occur faster.
3. You have outstanding management. Good management is determined by what is left, not what is taken. A lot of times cutting is done according to species. This goes both ways, taking out all of what you want, or taking out all the "junk" to foster what you want.

Pretty big waffle, huh? Guess I've covered my rear end with all possibilities.  ;D

The fact that you have large trees with clear trunks indicates a (relatively) old stand, and yes, leaving them out by themselves makes them more susceptible to windthrow, but the site makes a big difference.
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Offline scgargoyle

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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #5 on: April 21, 2007, 11:47:24 AM »
Thanks, riles. I'm guessing it was never managed. There are a few Virginia pines in the mix, about 6 types of oak, and even a few hickories, plus a few trees I haven't ID'd yet (We've only been there in the winter so far). There is very little underbrush or vines; you can walk freely just about everywhere. It is about a 15% grade facing north-northeast. And it is in SC, zone 7b. The reason I asked about windthrow is that we found a large (24"DBH) tree uprooted. Might have been a scarlet oak; I didn't look very closely. If I had to guess, I'd say it was taken out by a west wind. We are going to build there, and I'm worried about how far from the house a tree like that should be.
I hope my ship comes in before the dock rots!

Offline Riles

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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #6 on: April 21, 2007, 02:48:44 PM »
Windthrow is pretty basic, the roots were unable to support the tree. Then the question becomes why?

The wind overwhelmed them (hurricane force).
The roots couldn't go deep enough (shallow soil / high bedrock, hardpan)
The roots wouldn't grow deep enough (high water table)
The roots lost the ability (root rot, mechanical / animal damage)

On any given site, some species grow better than others, so obviously an off-site species will be more susceptible to problems, including windthrow, than the ones best adapted there.

In the case of your tall skinny trees after a thinning, the wind becomes overwhelming because it doesn't have it's buddies there for mutual support (crown to crown). With time, the root network expands into previously unreachable territory and the trunk beefs up with the new nutrients and sunlight the tree now has access to.

Long winded answer, sorry. Here's the short answer. All trees eventually fall down.
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Offline Gary_C

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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #7 on: April 21, 2007, 03:06:37 PM »
When I saw that picture of the Red Oak with the banding, I thought I was looking at an Aspen. Also the Northern Red Oak has similar bark as the Aspen. Many times when I look at only the lower part of Aspen, from the bark only it looks exactly like a Red Oak.

That brings up a lot of questions about evolution of trees. Does this indicate that Red Oaks and Aspen were somehow related years ago? Do trees cross breed some way?

Obviously there must be some way that new tree species develop, but are tree species still evolving and cross breeding? 

Lots of questions.   ???
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Offline Bro. Noble

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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #8 on: April 21, 2007, 03:09:41 PM »
I'm worried about how far from the house a tree like that should be.

We're kinda getting away from WDH's terrific thread,  but I think this question is important and maybe even deserves a thread of it's own.  Sounds like you have some very special and beautiful timber and a new house in the midst of it sounds great.  I'd suggest getting someone to look at the trees around your proposed building site (if you don't feel comfortable doing this) to try to spot any trees that are unhealthy or might pose a hazzard to your house.  When we built,  I talded it over with the backhoe operator and we picked out the trees that absolutely had to be taken out to give room to put in the basement.  We trimmed limbs from some of the other trees.  I posted about using a shotgun to do some further trimming after the house was completed.  Why do people clear their building site of mature trees and then spend a fortune trying to get new trees to grow?


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Offline Bro. Noble

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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #9 on: April 21, 2007, 03:14:56 PM »
Do trees cross breed some way?




In our area we have trees called 'Bastard oaks'  Maybe WDH can tell us about these.  I know where there are some,  but don't know what they are supposed to be from if they are indeed crosses.
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Offline Phorester

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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #10 on: April 22, 2007, 09:35:10 AM »

GARY C, yep, trees are still evolving.  But of course this process occurs over hundreds of thousands, and usually millions, of years, so us humans will never be able to detect these changes in person.

It's generally accepted that trees became separate from other plants about 400 million years ago.  For hundreds of millions of years they were much different than the trees we see now. Like other plants and animals, they evolved to take advantage of the changes in climate on this planet. Tree species that could live in the new climates survived, ones that couldn't, died out.  That will continue as long as this planet exists.
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Offline DanG

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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #11 on: April 22, 2007, 10:21:08 AM »
That's exactly why I ain't all that worried about this "Global Warming" scare.  Maybe, one day, they'll be growing Longleaf SYP in Canada, and Teak in Georgia. ;D
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Offline scgargoyle

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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #12 on: April 22, 2007, 12:00:54 PM »
That's exactly why I ain't all that worried about this "Global Warming" scare.  Maybe, one day, they'll be growing Longleaf SYP in Canada, and Teak in Georgia. ;D
...and flocking to the beaches in Orlando...
I hope my ship comes in before the dock rots!

Offline Phorester

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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #13 on: April 22, 2007, 04:19:30 PM »

Correct, Dang.  10,000 years ago there was mostly spruce and fir in VA.  As the ice age abated and the glaciers receeded, southern pines and eastern hardwoods moved north into VA.

The only thing that's permanent in nature is change.   Most times pretty slow, sometimes pretty fast.
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Offline WDH

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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #14 on: April 22, 2007, 10:14:10 PM »
DanG,  Southern red oak ranges as far north as the southern shores of the great lakes east to the atlantic coast from New York and points south, and as far west as Texas.  It basically covers the entire eastern US.
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Offline WDH

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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #15 on: April 22, 2007, 10:29:58 PM »
Bro Noble,

There are several white oaks also known in some localities as bastad oak.  Two are very similar if not the same species.  Quercus austrina and Quercus sinuata look very similar.  They are called bluff oak or bastard white oak.  The bark is gray and very scaly just like a normal white oak (Quercus alba), but the leaves are more irregular and smaller.  They are like an intermediate species between true white oak and post oak (with the cross-shaped leaves).  There is a third oak sometimes referred to as bastard oak that is called in the texts Durand oak (Quercus durandii).  But, these are all white oaks, very different than southern red oak.

Some species of oaks do hybridize, making things a little confusing when they inter breed.  Fortunately, it is not too common.
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Offline WDH

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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #16 on: April 22, 2007, 10:37:01 PM »
Larry,

One last thing.  Northern red oak, Quercus rubra is widely considered to produce the finest red oak lumber.  In a race, northern red oak would beat southern red oak in the quality race.  Southern red oak would end up in the top 10, but not in the top 3.  Southern red oak would end up about in the middle of the top ten oaks.  Not bad , though.  On the best sites, it can produce some fine lumber.
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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #17 on: April 22, 2007, 11:08:14 PM »
Interestingly enough, here on the zone 7A/7B border where I live in north Georgia, I have *zero* southern red oak and an abundance of northern red oak.

It may have more to do with the elevation and slope direction than the latitude - I suppose.

Offline WDH

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Re: Identifying Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
« Reply #18 on: April 22, 2007, 11:10:50 PM »
Yes, the elevation is the key.  Northern red oak grows at higher elevations.  Southern red's range is extensive, but only at lower elevations.
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