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How to Identify Tennessee Oak Trees

oak-tree leaves_2 image by Galyna Andrushko from <a href=''></a>

Tennessee has 20 native species of oak that fall into two broad categories: red or white. Oak trees bear acorns, which provide food for wild critters and anyone interested in harvesting acorns for acorn meal. These long-lived specimens make good shade trees; their wood is often used in the furniture industry. Tennessee's oak trees can be identified by their leaves, acorns, bark and buds, as well as their geographic habitat; some prefer lowlands and some higher ground.

acorn image by Sean Gladwell from <a href=''></a>

Determine whether your tree is an oak tree by first examining the shape of the leaf and looking for acorns. While variations within oak leaves help you narrow down the species, all oak leaves have an ovoid shape with long lobes. In the spring and summer, oak leaves are dark green; in autumn, they turn brown. If the leaves do not have this appearance, you do not have an oak tree.

Note whether the lobes on your oak tree are rounded. This confirms the presence of a white oak tree. Tennessee white oaks include white oak, bur oak, chestnut oak and post oak.

Notice that pointy lobes on your oak leaf denote a red oak. Common red oaks within Tennessee include the Northern red oak, Southern red oak, black oak, cherrybark oak and Shumard oak. There are more types of red oak within Tennessee than white.

Review the list of Tennessee oak species published by the University of Tennessee to accurately identify the exact species of red or white oak you have found (see Resources). This guide describes the leaf, acorn and bark of each tree to help homeowners identify each local oak.

Identify Oak Trees

With over 600 species of oaks located across North America, Europe, North Africa and Asia, identifying one particular species from another can be a challenging task. One thing you can identify based on leaf shape is the leaf group, meaning whether the tree is a red or white oak. If you are trying to identify an oak during winter or fall, you might also be able to identify whether the leaves change color and fall off or if the tree is an evergreen variety. It's worth noting that although leaf shape alone is rarely enough to identify a tree's species, there are a handful of oaks with very distinctive leaves that can accurately result in the identification of the tree with no other information. An example includes the endangered maple-leaf oak of Western Arkansas that has deeply lobed leaves that resemble maple tree leaves more than they resemble most other American oak leaves. Almost all oaks can be classified into one of these varieties. For example, live, chinkapin and overcup oaks are all white, whereas black, pin and cherrybark oaks are all red. Red oaks take two years to reach maturity and produce acorns consistently year round. Sometimes you not only need to look at your location geographically but also the habitat.

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