The Scarlet Oak

This month we feature the Scarlet Oak, Quercus coccinea.

This beautiful tree is located by the Port Cochere, and is No. 66 on the arboretum’s south loop. It is probably 40-50 years old, and is looked after by Kay Rosier under the Adopt-a-Tree program.

The scarlet oak is an important canopy tree mainly native to the central and eastern United States, from southern Maine and west to Wisconsin and Missouri, and south as far as Georgia. It is a medium to large deciduous tree that grows 70 and sometimes up to 100 feet tall, with an open rounded crown.

The leaves are glossy green, about 3–7 inches long, and usually have seven C-shaped lobes with deep sinuses between the lobes, which end in small bristles. This is a typical characteristic of the red oak family to which the scarlet oak belongs.

In the autumn the leaves turn a bright scarlet that gives this tree its common English name. These red leaves often remain on the tree through the first snows of winter, brightening the season. The acorns are about 1⁄2 to 1 inch long, and one-third to half covered in a deep scaly cup. They take about 18 months to mature.

This tree is a very popular landscape choice, a widely used species throughout parks, in large yards and along streets. Perhaps these are also the reasons why it has the honor of being the official tree of the District of Columbia.

Although the acorns are very bitter, they are an important food source for many large songbirds, wild turkeys, grouse, squirrels and white-tailed deer. The wood is generally sold as red oak, but is not as strong as that species.


Martin Wells and Judy Czeiner, Photographer