By any standard, the oak is a brawny tree. It is significant in numbers alone, being the most widespread hardwoods in the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere. One of the most notable attributes of the oak is its commanding stature.
Its amazing strength, beauty, and longevity have made the oak a central part of much of American history. Abraham Lincoln found his way across a river near Homer, Illinois, using the Salt River Ford Oak as a marker. The Richards White Oak in Cecil County, Maryland once served as a landmark on a 1681 map used by William Penn. Andrew Jackson took shelter under Louisiana’s Sunnybrook Oaks on his way to the Battle of New Orleans. And Old Ironsides, the USS Constitution, earned its nickname from the strength of its live oak hull, famous for easily repelling British cannonballs.
Oak species are divided into one of two major groups: the red oaks (erythrobalanus) and white oaks (Quarcas alba). The scarlet oak falls under the red oak genus. What makes the scarlet oak most notable is its parade of red throughout the seasons. Early spring foliage is often red, and in the summer the tree boasts a deep, green color followed by a vibrant scarlet in the fall. Not to mention, the inner bark of the tree is also red. The tree’s bright foliage is a showstopper on any landscape, perhaps that is why it is the official tree of District of Columbia.
In the Landscape
Tolerance for poor soils and wind resistance (hardiness zones 4-9) combined with its striking beauty make the scarlet oak a widely-used species throughout parks, in large yards, and along streets.
Despite their great variety, oaks share several distinctive characteristics. They all grow from acorns and can live for centuries. Most species also share a common shape, being rounded with a broadly spreading crown. They are also damage-resistant, hardy trees that have merited admiration and respect for the shelter and many vital products their wood has long provided Americans.