How to Identify Oak Trees of Florida

Overview

About 19 species of oak trees (Quercus spp.) are commonly found growing in Florida. Oak trees can live for more than 300 years, some species reaching heights of more than 100 feet. Each species has its own unique characteristics, which will help you to identify the tree. To help with the identification process, reference a tree field guidebook for Florida.

Step 1

Identify the oak tree by its size. The largest oaks are the white oak (Q. alba), which grows 80 to 150 feet tall with a 3- to 5-foot trunk diameter; the swamp red oak (Q. pagoda), which reaches 100 to 130 feet tall with a 3- to 5-foot trunk diameter; and the Willow oak (Q. phellos), which grows 80 to 130 feet tall with a 3- to 6-foot-diameter trunk. The smallest are the bluejack oak (Q. incana), a small, shrubby tree that's less than 30 feet tall with a short, irregular trunk, and the Chinkapin oak (Q. muehlenbergii), also shrub-like and grows 10- to 30 feet tall.

Step 2

Spot the Florida oak tree by studying its leaves. For example, the bluff oak (Q. austrina) has oblong, three-lobed leaves that are yellow-green and can vary in size. The Chapman oak (Q. chapmanii) has narrow, non-lobed leaves that are silvery-green and 3½ inches long. The myrtle oak (Q. myrtifolia) has small evergreen leaves that are only 1 to 2 inches long, oval, non-lobed and with spiny tips and smooth margins. The post oak (Q. stellata) has cross-like leaves with two central lobes that are slightly square and larger than the rest. They have a dark green upper surfaces with short, fine, soft hairs and wooly undersides.

Step 3

Study the trees' branches and crown. The live oak (Q. virginiana) has a broad, buttressed trunk base and low-growing, massive, wide-spreading branches. The laurel oak (Q. laurifolia) has slender branches forming a broad, dense and round canopy. The overcup oak (Q. lyrata) is a smaller tree with crooked, twisted branches. The water oak (Q. nigra) is a tall, slender tree with ascending branches forming a rounded crown.

Step 4

Look at the "fruits." The blackjack oak has light-brown, oblong acorns that are about ¾-inches long, while the Chapman oak produces acorns with warty, knobby cups that cover nearly half the fruit. The post oak has ¾-inch acorns with slight stripes and cups covering about one-third of the nut, which are attached to stout, fuzzy brown twigs. The Southern red oak's acorns are ½-inch long and are orange-brown.

Step 5

Study the bark. The black oak (Q. velutina) has reddish-brown twigs and dark-brown, smooth bark on its trunk with orange-red inner bark that becomes thick and scaly with deep, vertical furrows. The Shumard oak (Q. shumardii) has thick bark with whitish, scaly ridges and deep, darker fissures. The turkey oak (Q. laevis) has scaly, dark-gray bark, turning almost black, with red inner bark and irregular fissures.

Step 6

Identify the tree by where it's growing. The blackjack, bluejack, post, turkey and Southern red (Q. falcata) oaks grow in dry, sandy, infertile and upland soils or slopes. The swamp chestnut (Q. michauxii), willow, water, overcup, Shumard and swamp red oak trees grow in bottomlands, or near swamps or streams, in moist, poorly-draining soils. The myrtle oak grows near salt water, while the live oak grows in sandy soils in the Florida plains.

Tips and Warnings

  • Don't confuse the swamp chestnut oak with the swamp red oak, both of which grow in bottomlands. The swamp chestnut oak has 5- to 8-inch-long, non-lobed leaves with coarsely wavy-toothed edges, while the swamp red oak has leaves with five to 11 lobes. The swamp red oak tree's bark is grayish-black and flaky or scaly, while the swamp chestnut oak's bark is irregularly furrowed, and scaly and gray on the outside with reddish inner bark.

Things You'll Need

  • Tree field guidebook

References

  • University of Florida IFAS Extension: Common Oaks of Florida
  • UFL School of Forest Resources and Conservation: Fagaceae -- The Beech Family

Who Can Help

  • Florida's Nature: Native Trees & Shrubs of Florida
Keywords: identify Florida oaks, Florida oak trees, oak tree species, Florida Quercus species

About this Author

Sarah Terry brings 10 years of experience writing novels, business-to-business newsletters, and a plethora of how-to articles. Terry has written articles and publications for a wide range of markets and subject matters, including Medicine & Health, Eli Financial, Dartnell Publications and Eli Journals.