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What Is the Difference Between White Oak & Red Oak?

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Red oak (Quercus rubra) and white oak (Quercus alba) are both tall trees suited for large landscape spaces. White oak matures at 75 feet and red oak at 80 feet. Under ideal conditions, both oaks can reach 100 feet tall. White oak has a wider spread, up to 100 feet wide. Red oak only spreads to 75 feet. Red and white oak are in the same oak (Quercus) genus but their bark, nut, growth rate and leaf characteristics are slightly different.

Leaf Characteristics

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The leaves of red oak and white oak are similar in length, around 8.5 inches. White oak leaves are narrower at about 4 inches, while red oak leaves are 4 to 6 inches wide. Both red and white oak leaves have lobes. White oak lobes are rounded. Red oak lobes are pointed. White oak leaves become rich red to wine-colored in the fall, while red oak leaves turn a bright red.

Growth Rate

White oaks have a slow-to-medium growth rate during the first 20 to 30 years. After that, white oaks grow very slowly. White oaks are also difficult to transplant. Red oak grows at a rate of 2 feet per year. Red oak can grow faster under ideal conditions.

Bark Color

The bark on a mature white oak tree is light gray. Red oak bark is dark brown to nearly black.

Nut Features

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Both red and white oaks produce nuts, referred to as acorns. Acorns are produced either singularly or in pairs on both red and white oaks. White oak acorns have bumpy caps, while red oak acorn caps feature smooth overlapping scales, and are wide and rounded.

Red Oak Tree And A White Oak

When one comes across an oak tree, most can identify what it is compared to other trees, but many don't know that there are a variety of oaks. Oak trees come from a large group of trees called the Beech family (Fagaceae) that include beeches, chestnut, chinkapins and oak trees. The genus Quercus is a Latin word meaning oak tree. Red and white oaks grow throughout the United States and Canada. Other red leaf trees have spiny teeth on the margins, smooth edges or edges that are smooth with just one bristle at the apex of the leaf. Tree leaves are either pointed or rounded. On the other hand, white oak acorns hardly have any hair on the inside, so the meat doesn't have a bitter taste. The red oak bark is naturally much darker. Some of the bark is so dark that it almost looks black.

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