How to Identify Red Oak Trees


The red oak tree (Quercus rubra), also known as the Northern red oak, is a common street and landscape tree that can withstand urban conditions and many different soil types. The red oak tree is planted as a shade tree in nearly all areas of the United States. Red oaks are also beloved by a wide range of birds and other wildlife for their acorns, and deer also feed on the twigs and buds in winter.

Step 1

Identify the red oak by its size and form. The red oak tree reaches a mature height of 60 to 75 feet with a 45-foot spread and 1- to 3-foot-diameter trunk. The tree has a dense, rounded crown.

Step 2

Study the leaves. The red oak's thin, dark-green leaves have seven to 11 shallow, waxy lobes with bristle tips. The 4- to 8-inch-long leaves are arranged alternately along the stems and turn russet-red to bright red in autumn.

Step 3

Look at the bark. The red oak tree's bark is rough and dark near the base of the trunk and has broad grayish ridges divided by fissures on the upper trunk.

Step 4

Examine the acorns: on a red oak tree, they should be round to oblong and ¾- to 1-inch long with a thick, brown cup that's saucer-shaped. The cup doesn't have fringe and is shallow with flat scales.

Tips and Warnings

  • Don't confuse the red oak with the scarlet oak tree, both of which grow to about the same size and have red autumn leaves. Unlike the red oak, the scarlet oak tree has deeply-lobed leaves that are small, only 3- to 5-inches long. The scarlet oak also has light-brown acorns that have much deeper cups than those of the red oak, with the cup covering about half of the nut.


  • Arbor Day Foundation: Oak, Northern Red -- Quercus rubra
  • Scarlet Oak
  • Red Oak (Northern Red Oak)

Who Can Help

  • Vanderbilt University: Comparison of Features of Oaks (Quercus spp.)
Keywords: identify red oaks, red oak trees, Quercus rubra identification

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.