Oak Trees in North America

North American oak trees inhabit the native hardwood forests across the continent. Their nuts, called acorns, are an important food source for many animals like squirrels and birds. Oak trees are a staple in many urban landscapes as well, including parks, golf courses, large yards and along streets. The wood of the oak tree, like red oak, is used for fine-crafted furniture, and white oak is commonly used for making barrels to age wine.

White Oak

The white oak (Quercus alba) is a large tree growing to heights of 60 to 100 feet with a spread of 50 to 90 feet. It is native to eastern and central North America and survives in USDA Zones 3B through 8. It is a very long living tree that can have a lifespan of 800 years. White oak trees like full sun to part shade. They are not too picky about soil conditions as long as it is well draining and has a low pH. A pH of 5.5 to 6.5 is optimal. Once the tree is established it is drought resistant. This is a tree for large landscapes, and in time it will provide a dense canopy of shade and its acorns will attract wildlife.

Southern Live Oak

The southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) is the state tree of Georgia. It is a large tree that reaches 60 to 80 feet tall with a spread of 60 to 120 feet, and has a thick foliage cover. It is native to the southern United States from Florida north to Virginia and stretching west to Texas. It inhabits coastal environments where it remains small, and reaches its full size when growing inland. Often these trees are seen in the south covered with Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides). Live oak is suitable for USDA Zones 7B through 10B where it prefers full sun to part shade. It adapts to many different types of soils as long as they drain well, but grows best in moist soil, while being very tolerant of dry conditions.

Northern Red Oak

The northern red oak (Quercus rubra) is native to the deciduous forests of eastern North America where it grows to 90 feet tall. It can often be found planted along city streets due to its tolerance of urban soils and pollution. The northern red oak likes full sun and a well-draining soil with a pH lower than 7.5. It survives in USDA Zones 5 through 8A, and has showy red leaves in the fall.

Keywords: white oak, southern live oak, northern red oak, north american oaks

About this Author

Brian Albert has been in the publishing industry since 1999. He is an expert in horticulture, with a focus on aquatics and tropical plants like orchids. He has successfully run an aquatic plant business for the last five years. Albert's writing experience includes the Greater Portland Aquarium Society newsletter and politics coverage for a variety of online journals.