It isn't always easy to tell the difference between oak varieties, but some oaks are mightier than others. A popular wood for furniture, barrels, building frames and paneling, oaks are common throughout the eastern, mid-western and part of the southern United States. While there are approximately 400 species of oaks, there are ones that are commonly found in American forests and backyards.
Also known as Quercus palustris, this tree is native to the eastern part of the United States and usually lives between 90 to 120 years. One of the most common American oaks, the pin oak reaches 80 to 90 feet at maturity. Leaves are 3 to six inches long, and its acorns are one-half inch long, maturing at two years. The grayish-brown bark develops furrows as the tree ages.
Found throughout the eastern part of the U.S. and Canada, the white oak, or Quercus alba, can thrive on a variety of soil types. One of the largest oaks, its acorn crops vary from year to year, producing strong amounts only about twice each decade. Long-lived, some white oaks are estimated to reach the age of 600 years. The bark is generally light gray, and leaves grow between 4 and 7 inches long.
Quercus rubra, or the red oak, is widely used in the timber industry, partly due to its relatively fast growth. Red oaks can live up to 300 years, and range in height from 70 to 90 feet. Its native habitat ranges from the eastern U.S. into Canada. Many animals depend on red oak acorns for sustenance in the wild; these animals include deer, bear, raccoon, squirrel and birds such as blue jays and nuthatches.
As the black oak ages, its bark turns a very dark hue, hence its name. It ranges throughout the eastern, mid-western and southern states, except Florida. Quercus velutina's ovoid acorns grow to about 3/4 inches, and mature at two years. Its leaves vary from 4 to 10 inches long.
Quercus coccinea, the scarlet oak, turns a deep red each autumn. The scarlet oak grows rapidly and is a favorite shade tree for parks, streets and homeowners. Its native range extends from Maine to the Gulf Coast, and it does well in various soils.
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