Root System of Red Oak

Red oak acorns mature over two seasons, while white oak acorns mature in one.

A red oak is not a particular species of tree but a term used to describe a type of oak with bristly or pointy leaves, and acorns that mature over two growing seasons, sprouting when they mature in the spring. White oaks, on the other hand, have rounded ends and points, and acorns that mature in one season. White oaks and red oaks have different kinds of initial root systems.

Common Tree Root Characteristics

All trees share certain root characteristics. Tree roots have an apical meristem, which is composed of a particular plant tissue -- meristematic tissue -- found only at the root tip and covered by a root cap. As this apical meristem grows, it sloughs off its oldest tissue and prohibits new cells from cell division. This effectively establishes what is called the "zone of elongation," in which cells expand and become specialized. The rate at which this growth occurs depends on several factors, including season, tree species and environmental conditions such as water and nutrient supply.

Red Oak Root System

There are three main types of root systems: heart roots, tap roots and flat roots. Red oaks initially develop heart root systems as they are establishing. Heart roots resemble the vein and artery system of the human heart: Several semideep roots will elongate into the soil, while several smaller roots extend off these main roots, creating a branching root system. As the tree establishes, this root system might modify itself into different shapes, depending on how it can best gather its nutrients, water and oxygen.

White Oak Root System

Red oak root systems are differentiated from white oak root systems, which produce tap roots. Tap roots have one primary anchoring root that extends deep into the soil, with secondary roots branching off it, mostly in the top several inches of soil. This difference means the two different types of trees require slightly different environments. White oaks, for instance, benefit from deeper levels of moisture in the soil.

Factors Affecting Red Oak Root Health

Red oak roots are vulnerable to damage caused by site disturbance, such as occurs with construction and cultivating large or numerous plants nearby. Changing the land's grade as well as causing compacted soil over the tree roots can also cause problems. Harm caused to roots by site disturbance is often not apparent at first, but once it is done, oak tree decline is almost inevitable. The first sign of decline due to root and soil disturbance is usually branch dieback.