Treasured for their durable wood, shade and beauty, oak trees are well-loved around the world. At least one type of oak tree can be found growing in any area where trees can survive. Some of the most popular are native to the southern United States, but common varieties are also found in Europe, Asia and Africa.
Southern Live Oak
When most people imagine an oak tree, they are thinking of a southern live oak, or Quercus virginiana, with its graceful, sweeping branches draped with Spanish moss. Native to the southern United States, these oak trees can grow up to 80 feet tall and 100 feet wide, and live so long that their lifespan is unknown. One famed southern live oak, the "Angel Oak," is believed to be more than 1,500 years old.
Cork oak, or Quercus suber, is native to North Africa and parts of the western Mediterranean. This tree actually supplies cork that is used in a variety of commercial applications, including wine bottle corks. Cork oak can grow up to 70 feet tall and 50 feet wide and has a lifespan of 150 to 250 years. The cork, which grows as a thick bark around the tree, is usually harvested until the tree is at least 25 years old, and subsequent harvests are made every 10 to 12 years thereafter.
One of a handful of oak trees that are native to the western U.S., valley oak, or Quercus lobata, is from California. It is slow-growing and can eventually top out at 50 feet tall by 45 feet wide. The valley oak is well suited to hot summer temperatures and tolerates droughts well as long as the roots can reach groundwater. This variety of oak often lives up to 600 years.
The holly oak, or Quercus ilex, is easily identified by its dark green, glossy foliage that looks similar to holly. Native to Southwest Europe, it can reach sizes of 80 feet tall and 70 feet wide. Used for centuries for its hard wood, holly oak is also valued for its relationship with truffles, the mushrooms loved by gourmet chefs that like to grow at the base of the trees. These oak trees are sometimes trimmed to resemble bushes or hedges.
Native to China, Japan and the Himalayas, sawtooth oak, or Quercus accustissima, is known for surviving in a wide range of conditions, including poor soil and extreme pollution. It can grow up to 50 feet high and wide. The sawtooth oak goes through several color changes throughout a year, starting out with yellow and pale green leaves in spring, which turn to dark, deep green in summer, and eventually to yellow and brown in the fall.