Crooked Run Valley
black oak (Quercus velutina)
yellow butt oak
Quercus velutina var. missouriensis Sarg.
Quercus leiodermis Ashe
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Confirmed.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of black oak is
Quercus velutina Lam.. It has been placed within the red (black) oak
group. The following rarely used forms have been distinguished on the
basis of leaf lobe variation and pubescence: 1) Quercus velutina f. macro-
phylla (Dippel) Trel., 2) Quercus velutina f. dilanianta Trel., and 3) Quer-
cus velutina f. pagodaeformis Trel. There appears to be complete integra-
tion between the forms. Black oak hybridizes with the following species:
scarlet oak, northern pin oak, southern red oak, bear oak, shingle oak, blue-
jack oak, blackjack oak, water oak, pin oak, willow oak, northern red oak,
and Shumard oak.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Black oak is a
medium - to large-sized, native, deciduous tree with an irregularly
rounded crown. In a forest, the trunk is usually branch-free for half
the height of the tree. Individuals may live 150 to 200 years. On good
sites, black oak may reach 150 feet (46 m) in height and 48 inches
(122 cm) in d.b.h., but most trees are 60 to 80 feet (18-24 m) tall and
24 to 36 inches (61-91 cm) in d.b.h. Black oak has a deep taproot and
deep and widespreading lateral roots.
REGENERATION PROCESSES: Black oak is monoecious. Seed
production begins when the tree is about 20 years old, with maximum
production occurring between ages 40 and 75. Black oak is a consistent
seed producer, with good acorn crops every 2 to 3 years. Seed dissem-
ination is by squirrels, mice, bluejays, and other animals, and by gravity.
Rodents and birds often cache acorns in the soil. Burial in or contact with
mineral soil and coverage with a light layer of leaves are favorable con-
ditions for acorn germination. In a study of black oak and white oak
regeneration of an old field in Michigan, seedlings were more likely to
establish initially in open patches because blue jays preferentially choose
open sites to cache acorns. However, seedlings that colonized open
patches were not likely to survive beyond the first several years unless
the patch was subsequently invaded by herbaceous vegetation. Seedling
growth is slow; average annual height growth of seedlings in Missouri
during a 6-year period was 2.1 inches (5.3 cm). Seedlings can survive
Black oak sprouts from the root collar if top-killed or cut. Younger
individuals are more likely to sprout than older individuals. The
probability that a stump with a 1-year-old sprout will have at least one
dominant or codominant sprout at age 5 is predictable from stump
diameter. Black oak has a low tolerance for multiple sprouts and tends
toward the survival of a single sprout per stump. Seedlings often die
back and sprout numerous times, thus becoming advance regeneration.
The roots of black oak saplings may be 10 to 20 years older than the tops .
Sprouts grow faster than seedlings. Generally, the bigger the old stem is,
the faster the height growth of its sprouts.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Black oak, an upland xerophytic species,
can occur on all aspects and slope positions, but tends to be more abun-
dant on the drier southerly and westerly aspects and on upper slopes and
ridges. Black oak does not appear to be site-sensitive. Its occurrence is
more due to fortuitous circumstance than inherent habitat requirements.
Although it grows best on moist, rich, well-drained sites, it is sensitive to
competition on these sites and is more often found on dry, nutrient-poor,
coarse-textured soils. Black oak does not occur on the serpentine soils of
the Maryland Piedmont. It often grows on sandy or gravelly sites or heavy
glacial clay hillsides. Black oak is found up to 4,000 feet (1,200 m) in the
southern Appalachian Mountains. Black oak is less drought tolerant than
post oak (Quercus stellata), but more tolerant than northern red oak and
about as tolerant as white oak. Its predominance on southerly and westerly
aspects may be due in part to drought tolerance. In addition, the increased
solar radiation on these sites may facilitate early establishment and even-
tual dominance of black oak.
Overstory associates of black oak include pignut hickory (Carya glabra),
mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa), bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis), shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), American elm (Ulmus americana), slippery
elm (Ulmus rubra), white ash (Fraxinus americana), black walnut (Juglans
nigra), butternut (Juglans cinerea), southern red oak, scarlet oak, chinquapin
oak (Quercus muehlenbergii), red maple (Acer rubrum), black cherry, and
blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica). Common small tree associates include sassafras, flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum),
eastern hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), redbud (Cercis canadensis),
pawpaw (Asimina triloba), downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea),
and American bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia). Common shrub associates
include blueberry (Vaccinium spp.), mountain-laurel (Kalmia latifolia),
witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), beaked hazel (Corylus cornuta),
spicebush (Lindera benzoin), sumac (Rhus spp.), and Viburnum spp.
Herbaceous plants associated with black oak in sand savannas include
little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Pennsylvania sedge (Carex
pensylvanica), and Coreopsis spp.
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Black oak is intermediate in shade tolerance.
It is more tolerant than black cherry or shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata), but
less tolerant than white oak, chestnut oak (Quercus prinus), hickories,
maples (Acer spp.), elms (Ulmus spp.), beech (Betula spp.), or blackgum.
Light is required to recruit black oak seedlings into the sapling stage;
seedlings eventually die under a closed-canopy forest. Black oak replaces
pines (Pinus spp.) on heavily cutover areas. It succeeds sassafras and
common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) on upland old fields. In the
Hudson River Valley in New York, stands dominated by white oak, black
oak, and pignut hickory occur on rocky, nutrient-poor sites. The open
canopy, less distinct vertical stratification of canopy trees, and diverse
herbaceous understory suggest these forests gradually invade old pasture
sites. In the past, the high presettlement fire frequency in grasslands
prevented black oak expansion. The importance of black oak in many
forests has declined since human settlement. In the absence of disturb-
ance such as fire or windthrow, black oak is succeeded by more shade-
tolerant, mesophytic species. A decline in black oak has been document-
ed in an old-growth oak-hickory forest in southwestern Illinois. Black oak
had been dominant in the forest since 1821, but it decreased in density and
basal area between 1956 and 1983 due to senescence. Sugar maple (Acer
saccharum) has increased in the forest. It is believed that black oak
originally established on this site after the New Madrid Earthquake in
1811 or after a hurricane shortly after the earthquake, both of which caus-
ed much downed timber. In the late 1700's and 1800's in Pennsylvania,
massive logging to provide wood for charcoal-fueled iron furnaces was accompanied by wildfires. The combination of logging and fire increased
the relative dominance of oaks, including black oak. In the 20th century,
fire was suppressed and eventual logging of stands with understories dom-
inated by red maple, sugar maple, and black cherry accelerated the recruit-
ment of these mesophytic species into the canopy. In the Hudson River
valley in New York, early land surveys indicate the white oak-black oak-
hickory type was prevalent prior to forest clearing. Since abandonment
from agriculture, the type has returned but is not nearly as important as it
was. The percent occurrence of black oak in these forests was 15.3 percent
in the period before 1800 and only 4.1 percent in 1984. In a black oak-
white oak forest, white oak is replacing black oak. Black oak, which is
more susceptible to oak wilt than white oak, is dying. White oak is not
regenerating in the forest but because it is a longer lived, slower growing
species, it is now replacing black oak. Succession is slow or unlikely in
some oak forests on extremely xeric or nutrient poor sites. Black oak has
low nutrient requirements and is relatively ineffective in returning nutrients
to the soil in its litter.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Staminate flowers develop from leaf
axils of the previous year. Catkins emerge before or at the same time
as the current year's leaves, usually in April or May. Acorns mature in
two growing seasons. The acorns ripen from late August to October
depending on geographic location, drop in the fall, and germinate in the
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Black oak is widely distributed through-
out the eastern and central United States and extreme southwestern Ontario,
Canada. In the United States, black oak occurs from southwestern Maine
west to southern Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota; south through
Iowa to eastern Nebraska, eastern Kansas, central Oklahoma, and eastern
Texas; and east to northwestern Florida and Georgia.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION:
Tree specimens can be found on trails marked in red.
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
South Ridge/North Ridge
Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES: Black oak is a
common component of many eastern and central upland deciduous forests.
Black oak also occurs in savannas in the transition zone between the
eastern deciduous forests and the western prairies.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Black oak acorns provide food for numer-
ous wildlife species including squirrels, mice, voles, white-tailed deer, and
wild turkey. In Illinois, fox squirrels have been seen feeding on black oak
catkins. Black oak has a high cavity value for wildlife. Trunk cavities in
live black oaks were important nest sites for the northern flicker on Nan-
tucket Island, Massachusetts. Mean nest height was approximately 3.3
feet (1 m) above the ground.
Black oak naturally regenerated on abandoned lead-zinc mine sites in
Wisconsin and Iowa. The soil had high concentrations of lead and zinc.
Minor amounts of black oak were planted on Indiana surface mines bet-
ween 1928 and 1975, but its success on these sites has not been document-
The wood of black oak, which is light brown with a nearly white sapwood,
is sold as "red oak" and used for furniture, flooring, and interior finishing.
It is also used for barrels and railroad ties.
The bark of black oak contains enough tannin to make commercial extrac-
tion worthwhile. A yellow dye, suitable for coloring natural fibers, can be
obtained by boiling the inner bark.