As I continue to stay home most of the time (still a pandemic here!), I get a chance to appreciate more what is in my own yard. This week I’m focusing on the many oaks in my yard (a mostly wooded 2-acre tract among many others of similar size). Our part of Cherokee County is just inside the Southern Inner Piedmont ecoregion, a few short miles south of the Blue Ridge ecoregion. The area is rich in a diverse collection of native trees.
|Fall color of Quercus alba|
|Flaky bark of young Quecus alba|
The first oak that I noticed and the most prevalent is white oak (Quercus alba). A large canopy tree, it has beautiful leaves and fall color and abundant plump acorns for wildlife. Its flaky bark is noticeable even as a young tree. The deep burgundy-colored leaves are a late season treat.
There are no large water oaks (Quercus nigra) in my neighborhood, but there are plenty of young trees. Perhaps the big ones were removed when homes were built over 30 years ago. The trees are quite noticeable this time of year as they hold their green-yellow leaves longer than almost any other deciduous tree. The leaf shape can be quite variable, and I am never quite sure if very young saplings are water oaks or Southern red oaks.
|Water oak (Quercus nigra) leaves|
|Southern red oak (Quercus falcata)|
Southern red oak (Quercus falcata) is abundant in the neighborhood, and the turkey-foot shaped leaves and tiny acorns can be found everywhere. I have a hard time not calling it turkey oak (a common name used for a different species) based on those leaves. The thick leaves with a felt-like underside are mostly a rich brown in the fall but occasionally offer hints of red.
|Quercus marilandica leaves catch the sun over the driveway|
Blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica) is fairly abundant, mostly as young trees but I did find a large mature one in the back yard recently. I am not sure that I’ve found any acorns for it, however. Fall color can be so-so except for the ones near the driveway which are reddish. Wind-pollinated oaks can hybridize, of course, and in some cases I wonder if a little white oak got into these.
|Scarlet oak near my mailbox|
|Scarlet oak leaves and acorns|
Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) is a favorite one and the neighbor across the street has a gorgeous one (perfect for my viewing too). Glossy red leaves are about at their peak right now so a trip to the mailbox gives me a nice look every day. Acorns are good-sized; a quick check at the apex reveals the faint concentric rings that distinguish them so quickly as scarlet oak.
|Quercus rubra with great color|
|The bark of the same tree|
I knew that Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) was in the neighborhood but was never quite sure if I had one. I noticed a bright tree in the woods this week and it turned out to be that very species. The color is fantastic this year and it is still holding most all of its leaves.
Over the last 17 years I have watched a young oak sapling close to the driveway grow taller and thicker. I thought for some years that it might be a Northern red oak. A friend suggested that could be Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii). It has not produced any acorns yet and probably won’t for a while. Of course it could be a hybrid (the standard line for those we can’t figure out …). Fall color is so-so, a bit red-orange-brown.
|My maybe Quercus shumardii|
I have not identified Black oak (Quercus velutina) or Post oak (Quercus stellata) in my yard but both are easily found in the neighborhood, identified by fallen leaves and acorns on my walks. One more oak within the larger vicinity of my area is Chestnut oak (Quercus montana). I visit a favorite spot each year to pick up some the very large acorns for kids to see. The acorns sprout so quickly that if I'm late, most of them are already attached to the ground.
So I have potentially 7 species in the yard, 9 in the neighborhood, and 10 in the greater area (this doesn’t count all the species planted in shopping areas, read some of my earlier blogs about those). I feel fortunate indeed to live in such a diverse place. A wonderful reference about oaks can be found here as a downloadable PDF field guide. Get out there and see what's in your area!