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Intro to Trees of Indiana: Northern Red Oak

The classic and trusted book "Fifty Common Trees of Indiana" by T.E. Shaw was published in 1956 as a user-friendly guide to local species.  Nearly 70 years later, the publication has been updated through a joint effort by the Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Indiana 4-H, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and reintroduced as "An Introduction to Trees of Indiana."

A printed copy of the full publication is available for purchase for $7 in the Purdue Extension Education Store. The field guide helps identify common Indiana woodlot trees. 

Each week, the Intro to Trees of Indiana web series will offer a sneak peek at one species from the book, paired with an ID That Tree video from Purdue Extension forester Lenny Farlee to help visualize each species as it stands in the woods. Threats to species health as well as also insight into the wood providednorthern red oak bark by the species, will be provided through additional resources as well as the Hardwoods of the Central Midwest exhibit of the Purdue Arboretum, if available. 

This week, we take a look at the sixth of our oak varieties in Indiana, the Northern Red Oak or Quercus rubra.

This native species is easily identified by its bark and its acorn. The bark looks like ski tracks or long running ridges that run up and down the sides of the tree, while the fruit is a large rounded acorn featuring a tight shallow cap with tight scales that resembles a beret sitting on top of a head.

Like other members of the red oak group, the leaves are multi-lobed and have bristle tips, including a sharpnorthern red oak acorns bristle tip on the terminal lobe. On the northern red oak, the alternately held leaves have veins that are palmate, or run out to the ends of the lobes from a single point in the middle. In the fall, the dark green leaves change to a bright red color.

The cluster of terminal buds at the end of northern red oak stems are smooth, shiny and reddish brown to brown in color. The twigs are somewhat angular in appearance.

Northern red oaks, which grow to 60 to 75 feet tall, are found mostly in upland areas. The natural range of northern red oak is the eastern United States and southern Canada, with the exception of the southern coastal plains. It grows well on moist, but well-drained soils.line drawing of a northern red oak leaf

The Morton Arboretum states that northern red oak has a high tolerance of salt and air pollution, making it a good tree for more exposed areas. This species prefers a well-drained, rich woodland site and it grows best in sandy, loam soil.

As with other oaks, the northern red oak should be pruned in the dormant season to avoid attracting beetles that may carry oak wilt. Galls and mites are common insect problems. This species can develop chlorosis symptoms in high pH soils.

According to the Hardwood Lumber and Veneer Series, red oak, which can contain as many as 17 different species of trees, constitutes about one third of all the hardwood lumber produced, with northern red oak as the most preferred species.

Red oak lumber has a very characteristic, showy, coarse grain pattern. Wood color can range from a varyred oak wood panels light pink to a blood red color. Red oak is rated as the best wood to plane and second best in boring. It also receives high marks for shaping, turning and steam bending.

In general, lumber from the red oak group weighs around 44 pounds per cubic foot, making it one of our heavier woods. It is also one of our strongest woods.

Red oak lumber has been used for a variety of purposes from furniture and cabinets to millwork, caskets and hardwood flooring.

Other Resources:
ID That Tree: Northern Red Oak
ID That Tree: Red Oak Group
Hardwood Lumber and Veneer Series: Red Oak Group
Morton Arboretum: Northern Red Oak
Fifty Trees of the Midwest app for the iPhone, The Education Store
Native Trees of the Midwest, The Education Store
Shrubs and Woody Vines of Indiana and the Midwest, The Education Store
Investing in Indiana Woodlands, The Education Store
Forest Improvement Handbook, The Education Store
ID That Tree, Purdue Extension-Forestry & Natural Resources (FNR) YouTube playlist
Woodland Management Moment , Purdue Extension-FNR YouTube playlist

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