There are around 600 oak varieties in the world, 90 of which are native to the United States. Considering oak trees have a wide variety of leaf shapes – sometimes on the same tree – it’s no wonder people get confused between laurel and live oaks. We have put together an article with some of the popular oaks in our area so you can identify the trees by their leaves and acorns. The accompanying notes will also help you identify potential issues and decide on new varieties for your landscape.
Southern Live Oak
For all of the southern live oak’s spreading glory, it has one of the plainer leaves and smaller acorns on our list. It is also one of the more evergreen, with new leaves emerging as old ones are being dropped. When thinking about how to identify Florida oak trees, a mature southern live oak is the easiest with its widespread growth habit and unpredictable limb structure. It is also one of the most desirable trees for the strength of its limbs and long life.
Mature size: 50’ tall x 150’ wide Average life span: 500+ years
Annual growth: 24-36” Considered a stable and desirable tree.
A fast-growing, short-lived tree that can reach up to 70 feet, water oaks are used for short-term shade solutions. If you have one of these in your yard you already know that it is considered a weak tree, dropping branches on a regular basis. Any trimming of a water oak near a house needs to be done by a professional – improper cuts may lead to rot within the tree. Water oaks can be big acorn producers, a redeeming quality for those looking to attract wildlife.
Mature size: 70’ tall x 60’ wide Average life span: 30-50 years
Annual growth: 24” A good tree for wildlife but unstable and short-lived in landscapes.
Often found in parking lots and commercial landscaping, Shumard oaks are tolerant of a wide range of soils and conditions. These trees can grow to over 80 feet, sporting classic oak-shaped leaves up to 8 inches long and 6 inches wide. Considered a moderately fast-growing deciduous tree, it provides shade in the summer and allows sun in the winter.
Mature size: 80’ tall x 70’ wide Average life span: 100-200 years
Annual growth: 24” A large tree well suited for a variety of locations.
How to identify Florida oak trees when the leaves look similar? That is a question that comes up occasionally between the Shumard and pin oak leaves. Think of the pin oak leaves as coming to a “point” (or two) at the end and Shumard’s as being “showy.” You are also more likely to find the pin oak trees gathered near low-lying areas, tolerating wet feet during dormant months. The trees themselves can vary in height, considered medium to large trees depending on location and soil conditions.
Mature size: 50’ – 120’ tall Average life span: 120 years
Annual growth: 24” Popular as an ornamental tree and low spots in landscaping.
Another fast-growing, short-lived tree that can reach up to 100 feet, laurel oaks are considered evergreen, offering year-round shade. New leaves emerge while previous leaves are just beginning to drop, keeping the tree looking green year round. It is considered an ornamental tree that likes sandy soil. The leaves are small – 2”-4” in length and are smooth, requiring raking when old leaves drop to avoid slipping and falls.
Mature size: 80’ tall x 60’ wide Average life span: 50-70 years
Annual growth: 24-36” A fast maturing tree best planted as an ornamental.
Southern Red Oak
Southern red oak has leaves that vary from rounded edges to points, turning red and falling in colder temperatures. This tree prefers dry, sandy uplands with a range from New Jersey to Florida, extending west to Oklahoma and Texas. Acorns produced from trees in the red oak family tend to be more bitter than white oak varieties due to more tannins. Southern red oaks can grow quite large with lumber used for construction and furniture.
Mature size: 60’ – 90’ tall Average life span: 150 years
Annual growth: 12”-36” Deciduous tree with medium life span for dry, sandy soils.
Swamp Chestnut Oak
Also known as a cow oak, the acorns are sweet enough to eat raw without boiling. They are favorites of cows and other wildlife, making the swamp chestnut oak popular for those involved with habitat restoration. The leaves are not a classic oak shape – rather they are more oval with the widest part past the middle and an underside of thick fuzz.
Mature size: 50’ tall x 40’ wide Average life span: 100+ years
Annual growth: 12”-24” An excellent tree for wildlife with large, tasty acorns.
Named for its leaf resembling that of a willow tree, most willow oaks can also be found near streambeds and rivers. Unlike its namesake, the branches are horizontal, and the overall tree shape is pyramidal. Willow oaks are easily transplanted because of their shallow root system. The oak’s acorns are also an important food source for wildlife.
Mature size: 40’ tall x 60’ wide Average life span: 100 years
Annual growth: 13” – 24” A more delicate branching system with good forage for wildlife.
At Miller’s Tree Service we understand people becoming attached to a tree that has been on their family property through generations or one recently planted with hopes for the future. If you have concerns about one of your special trees, call us sooner rather than later so we can help keep your trees healthy, or remove a problem tree so others can thrive. We will literally go out on a limb for you! Call 850.894.8733.