Crooked Run Valley
scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea)
Quercus richteri Baenitz
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Confirmed.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of scarlet oak
is Quercus coccinea Muenchh. Scarlet oak has been placed within the
the subgenus Erythrobalanus, or red (black) oak group. A rarely recog-
nized variety, Quercus coccinea var. tuberculata Sarg., is distinguished
by thickened tuberculate scales of the cup.
Scarlet oak hybridizes with bear oak, black oak, and pin oak.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Scarlet oak is a med-
ium-sized, monoecious, native, deciduous tree with an open, rounded
crown. At maturity, scarlet oak is usually 60 to 80 feet (18-24 m) tall
and 24 to 36 inches (61-91 cm) in d.b.h., but it can reach a maximum size
of 100 feet (30 m) in height and 48 inches (122 cm) in d.b.h. on good sites.
Seedlings have a strong taproot and relatively few lateral roots. Scarlet
oak is one of the fastest growing upland oak species and is short-lived.
REGENERATION PROCESSES: Seed production begins when the
tree is about 20 years old, with maximum production occurring after 50
years of age. Seed production is irregular and unpredictable, but good
crops generally occur every 3 to 5 years. Seeds are disseminated by
animals and gravity. A light covering of forest litter and a moderately
open overstory canopy is ideal for germination. If top-killed, scarlet oak
sprouts from dormant buds at or above the root crown. Scarlet oak
stumps initially produce large numbers of sprouts, but over time, sprout
clumps tend towards the survival of one or two stems. Scarlet oak sprouts
grow faster in the first 5 years than the sprouts of most associated oak
species, but height growth falls off rapidly after 20 years.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Scarlet oak, an upland xerophytic species,
commonly occurs on ridges and slopes in hilly to mountainous terrain. It
occurs up to 5,000 feet (1,520 m) in the southern Appalachian Mountains
but is most common below 3,000 feet (910 m). In the Smoky Mountains,
scarlet oak is most frequent in middle and lower slope positions centered
around 2,500 feet (760 m) in elevation. Scarlet oak will also grow in valley
sites on generally coarser soils than white oak. Scarlet oak grows in a wide
variety of soils, but especially in dry sandy or gravelly soils. It is most
common on lower quality sites.
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Scarlet oak is intolerant of shade. Seeds can
germinate in the shade, but seedlings do not exhibit long-term survival or
growth under a closed canopy. Scarlet oak is usually found in dominant
and codominant positions, since suppressed individuals eventually die.
Scarlet oak tends to be better represented in forests with a history of dis-
turbance such as fire, logging, grazing, or disease. In a study of long-term
forest composition in North Carolina, scarlet oak regeneration was low for
over 30 years, suggesting population recruitment of this species is episodic
and probably dependent on disturbance. In the absence of disturbance,
codominant scarlet oak declines in importance in mixed oak stands.
Scarlet oak may be climax on dry sites with adequate light because of
its drought tolerance.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Scarlet oak flowers in April or May,
depending on latitude, elevation, and weather. Acorns mature in two
growing seasons. They ripen and drop in the fall and germinate in the spring.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Scarlet oak is distributed from south-
western Maine west to New York, Ohio, southern Michigan and Indiana;
south to southern Illinois, southeastern Missouri, and central Mississippi;
east to southern Alabama and southwestern Georgia; and north along the
western edge of the Atlantic Coastal Plain to the Virginia Coast. Scarlet
oak is abundant in the Piedmont and in the Appalachian Mountains.
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: Scarlet oak is a
common component of many eastern and central dry upland forests.
Nearly pure stands of scarlet oak grow in areas of the Ozark Plateau in
Missouri. A chestnut oak (Quercus prinus) -scarlet oak variant of the
chestnut oak cover type is found on upper slopes and ridges in the central
Appalachians. Scarlet oak is also prominent in several variants of the
white oak (Quercus alba) -black oak (Quercus velutina) -northern red
oak (Quercus rubra) cover types.
At middle and lower elevations in the Appalachian Mountains, scarlet oak
is often a major component of pine (Pinus spp.) forests and pine heaths.
Scarlet oak constitutes an important component of the subcanopy and
canopy layers of Table Mountain pine (Pinus pungens) forest. Common
small tree and shrub associates of scarlet oak sassafras (Sassafras albidum), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), redbud (Cercis canadensis), sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), sumacs (Rhus spp.), hawthorns (Crataegus spp.),
eastern hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), greenbriers (Smilax spp.), blue-
berries (Vaccinium spp.), and huckleberries (Gaylussacia spp.). Mountain-
laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is an associate on very dry sites.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Scarlet oak acorns are an important food
source for numerous upland wildlife species including squirrels, chipmunks,
mice, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, blue jays, and woodpeckers. White-
tailed deer occasionally browse young oak sprouts. The deer only take the
top few inches of the sprout unless it is extremely succulent or other food
Small mammals and birds use scarlet oak for nesting sites, both in the
canopy and in cavities.
Although scarlet oak wood is of inferior grade, it is cut and utilized with
other red oaks as red oak lumber.
Scarlet oak is widely planted in the United States and Europe as a shade
tree and ornamental. It has brilliant red foliage in autumn.