Oak Tree Characteristics and Uses

Oak TreeThe mighty oak tree has long been a symbol of endurance, strength, and longevity.  Indeed, in 2004, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation that officially designated the oak as America’s national tree.  Not only is the oak a very attractive tree, but this deciduous tree is very functional.  Nonetheless, these are just a few reasons why so many property owners proudly display oak trees on their premises.

Appearance of the Oak Tree

Oak trees are virtually impossible to overlook.  Their majestic branches encompass huge areas, although they are just one of this tree’s most notable characteristics.  The oak tree’s giant height is another distinctive feature.  Oak trees often reach heights of up to 100 feet, and may extend to a width of up to 150 feet.

Other notable traits of oak trees are:


The simple oak leaves are comprised of one elliptical shape and a solid stem.  Their sizes vary from two to five inches wide.  The oak leaf’s upper segment is a dark greenish color and has a shiny texture, while the bottom part of the leaf has a dull grayish tone that feels leathery to the touch.  In the Fall season, oak leaves assume awe-inspiring shades of orange, red, and yellow.


The bark of oak trees takes on its own life as time passes.  While younger oak trees sport a bark that is dark brown in color, older oak trees develop a reddish tinge and frequently turn black.  Moreover, as the tree matures, its burk develops furrows and scaly bridges.


The acorn is the fruit of oak trees.  They are light to dark brownish in color, have a bitter taste, and rarely extends more than an inch in length.  Acorns are attached to the actual tree or grow in clusters of up to five nuts.  In general, oak trees do not bear acorns for the first 20 seasons of growth, although some have gone up to five decades before producing acorns.

Types of Oak Trees

The oak family is among the largest in the world.  Consisting of over 600 species, oak trees are categorized into one of three main classifications:

White oak

A dark grayish-brown color and majestic beauty are the main distinctive features of this tree.  Unlike its close kin, the branches of the white oak are not very gnarled or twisted.  White oak trees produce slender acorns with colorings that range from light green to tan, and rich green leaves.

Red Oak

Leaves that turn a bright red color during the Fall is the feature that this tree is best known for.  The red oak is also recognizable by thick golden hairs that grown along the underside of its leaves.

Black Oak

Its very dark-colored trunk is the attribute for which this tree is named.  Another classic feature is its extremely twisted branches and root system.  The very contoured shape of the black oak makes it easily identifiable, even without leaves.

The majority of various types of oak trees age very well and often live for centuries.  The typical oak tree can survive to the age of at least 200 years, and many often surpass the 600-year mark.

Where Oak Trees Grow

Although they are native to North America, oak trees may grow and prosper in other areas of the world.  This includes the European continent, where it is the national tree of:

  •   England
  •   France
  •   Poland
  •   Lithuania
  •   Bulgaria
  •   Serbia
  •   Wales

Oak trees thrive best in temperate climates such as those common in the southeastern United States.  Oak trees are plentiful in Maryland to Texas, where they are able to get the amounts of water and natural light they need to thrive.  Oak trees do best in geographical regions where they have high exposure to full or partial sunlight and their roots can easily access large water supplies.  Mature oak trees may draw over 50 gallons of water from the ground each day.

Popular Oak Tree Characteristics & Uses

Oak trees yield some of the world’s hardest wood.  As a result, the tree is cultivated and harvested to create everything from floors to furniture, and railroad ties to ships.  However, the oak tree’s rigid, dense, durable wood is not used solely as a building material.  The white oak’s wood, for instance, is frequently used to make canoes oak aging barrels, white oak aging barrels, whiskey barrels for sale, bourbon barrels for sale, and more.

Other Popular Oak Tree Uses include:

  • Oak floors;
  • Native Americans have historically ground acorns to produce flour;
  • The white oak’s bark may be heated and used to help heal insect bites; or, it may be ingested in order to cure various stomach disorders;
  • Tannin contained in the bark of oak trees is used in the curing of leather;
  • Oak trees are the preferred habitats of squirrels, owls, and hedgehogs.

Other Interesting Data about Oak Trees

The oak tree also has solid roots in ancient history.  Hundreds of years ago, the Romans and Greeks revered the oak tree and used its leaves to heal various wounds.  The tree’s longest association, however, is with the British Isles.  It was there that the Druids believed that oaks had mystical properties.  Legend also has it that oak trees carry the souls of those who have passed on.  Another interesting oak tree factual tidbit originated during the Medieval Age:  King Arthur’s Round Table is thought to be constructed from one piece of ancient oak wood.

Oak Tree Diseases

Oak trees are among the most hardy on the face of the globe, but they are not indestructible.  The species is vulnerable to numerous diseases, including:

Sudden Oak Death

This aggressive disease can destroy oak trees very rapidly.  The fungus that develops causes cankers to grow on the tree’s trunk.  If left untreated, cankers may bleed and spread to other areas of the tree.

Oak Wilt

This disease is very common throughout the United States, where it is regarded as one of the most serious of all tree ailments.  What makes this fungal disease so onerous is that it destroys leaves and may spread from one tree to another via linked root systems.