Before Maryland's Wye Oak fell to a violent storm in 2002, it had been standing for at least 450 years. What they lack in rapid growth, oak trees compensate for with their longevity. Planting an oak in your landscape means waiting patiently for shade and autumn color. When they arrive, however, they will last for generations. Oaks and pin oaks trees of various varieties have adapted to the different growing conditions throughout the United States.
The massive Wye Oak was a white oak (Quercus alba). These trees often stand 100 feet high and 60 to 80 feet wide. Their horizontal limbs make them ideal shade trees. Light gray bark forms plates as the trees age. New twigs are gray to greenish-red. Medium-green elliptical leaves become yellow, red or orange in fall, often on the same tree. Trees produce annual crops of 1-inch brown acorns. Floral catkins--yellow-green on male trees and reddish-green on females--appear just prior to the leaves or with the leaves. Ingesting white oak's new leaves and acorns may be mildly toxic.
Texas Red Oak
A much smaller tree is the Texas red oak (Quercus texana), native to the bottomlands and flood plains of the southern United States and Missouri. Reaching 15 to 30 feet tall--rarely as high as 50 feet--it may have multiple trunks. Valued for its deep red or orange autumn color, Texas red oak has lobed green leaves and gray or black bark. The trees produce yellow flowers in March and April. Their acorns are up to three-quarters of an inch long. Plant Texas red oak, recommends the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, in part shade and wet clay soil.
Pin oak (Quercus palustris) lacks the massiveness of many other oak tree varieties. Native to bottomlands and wet woods from Mississippi to Massachusetts and west to Iowa, pin oak has a straight trunk with horizontal branches. Named for its pin-slender twigs, the 60-to-70-foot tree has a pyramid-like crown. Green, delicately textured summer leaves provide deep red autumn color. A shallow-rooting tree, pin oak produces yellow, brown or green catkins between March and May. Plant it in sun to shade and heavy, acidic, moist or wet soil, advises the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
Northern Pin Oak
Northern pin oak (Quercus ellipsoidalis) is a forked tree standing up to 75 feet high, with a crown that accounts for three-quarters of its height. It has grayish-brown bark and reddish twigs, with lobed, elliptical green leaves. Dark red in autumn, they remain on the trees through winter. Green or brown catkins appear in April or May just before--or simultaneously with--the new leaves. Northern pin oaks, says the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, produce one-half to three-quarter-inch acorns in alternate years. The tree grows wild in pine forests and savannas from Ohio to North Dakota. Plant it in dry, acidic sandy soil and full sun.