Both the Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) and the northern red oak (Quercus rubra) serve as street, shade and lawn trees in landscapes large enough to accommodate their size. These trees have some differences, starting with their ranges; northern red oak’s distribution extends throughout much of the eastern third of the United States and north into Canada, while Shumard oak’s range covers parts of the Midwest and most of the southeast United States to the Gulf Coast. Learn about their different features before deciding upon one for your property.
Both Shumard and northern red oak grow to become large trees, with Shumard oak slightly smaller on average. Both trees in the wild sometimes top 100 feet, but as cultivated trees are in the 60- to 90-foot range, according to the “National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees: Eastern Region.” Trunk diameters of 12 to 30 inches are common. Their size requires an open landscape for the tree to have room to grow. The leaves of both oaks are deciduous, turning from green to shades of brown-red in autumn. Both oaks generate acorns, a feature that will attract wildlife to your yard. Both species do best in full sun and in acidic soil.
Subtle differences exist between the leaves of a northern red oak and the Shumard oak. While both have leaves with multiple, pointy lobes, Shumard oak has deep sinuses extending nearly to the center of the leaf, while red oak leaves have shallow lobes. In addition, the northern red oaks have more lobes on their leaves. The foliage on the tree can have from seven to 11 lobes. A Shumard oak leaf normally has seven lobes, but can have as few as five or as many as nine. Shumard oak leaves have a leathery texture while northern red oak leaves are shinier.
Close examination of the acorns of northern red oak and Shumard oak is necessary to discover the differences between the two. Northern red oak acorns have a flat, saucer-shaped cap attaching the acorn to the twig. This cap covers about 1/3 of the entire egg-shaped acorn. The cap is not quite as large on the Shumard oak, covering about 1/4 of the acorn. Northern red oak acorns are brown, but the University of Connecticut Plant Database notes those on a Shumard oak have black and brown striations on them.
Northern red oak requires a site featuring good drainage in which to grow, but Shumard oak tolerates damp conditions, notes the Missouri Botanical Garden. The color of the bark helps define both species. Shumard oak has a grayish bark, smooth on the young trees but gradually developing slight furrows and ridges as the tree gets older. The bark of the northern red oak is a darker gray to almost black color, with the oldest individuals possessing deep fissures and ridges. Northern red oak is cold hardy to U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 4. Shumard oak tolerates conditions to zone 5. Shumard oak withstands the climate into USDA zone 9; northern red oak only to zone 8.