Often (and fairly) considered among the most majestic of trees, oak trees are beautiful as individual features in a landscape or as part of a vibrant forest environment.
Oak trees, genus Quercus, are actually a part of the beech family (Fagaceae), and there are around 450 different types of oak trees worldwide.
While I can’t possibly list all 450+ oak species here, I’ll mention some of the more common or interesting ones.
Oak is a vitally important tree (or family of trees) for biodiversity, and in general, an oak forest in the UK is home to a greater quantity of life, both plant and animal, than any other native woodland.
15 Different Types of Oak Trees From Around of the World
Or at least of the Northern Hemisphere, as oak trees don’t grow in the Southern Hemisphere apart from a few species in Southeast Asia.
However, in 2019 it was reported that researchers in Patagonia discovered fossils which suggest that the oak and beech family originated, during the time of the Gondwanan supercontinent, in the Southern Hemisphere.
Oak and beech ancestor species eventually disappeared from most of the Southern Hemisphere due to the changing of the earth’s climate. Due to the rapidity with which the climate is changing in our modern times, we risk their disappearance from the Northern Hemisphere too.
1. English Oak
Also called the pedunculate oak on account of the peduncles, or stalks, on its acorns, the English oak (Quercus robur) can grow to between 20 and 40 meters (65-131 feet) tall. However, like most oak trees, it will actually get shorter as it gets very old in order to lengthen its lifespan.
Its leaves have round lobes and very short leaf stalks. The leaves range in appearance from soft and bright green in spring, a little tougher (but not much) and rich green in summer, and a variety of shades of yellow, green, orange, and brown in autumn. The English oak is deciduous, as are most, but not all, species of oak tree.
A truly grand tree, it has a broad, spreading crown. One fascinating thing about oak trees which many people never get to see is the tendency of some species, such as the English oak, to grow a branch down to the ground in advance in order to support themselves in their old (and heavy) age.
Sadly, these support branches are usually removed for “aesthetic” reasons or convenience long before they reach the soil, but to see an oak propping itself up on a massive arm is a wonderful thing.
And just think: the calculation required by the tree, to know where it will need the most support and grow in that direction even though the support won’t be needed for many decades or longer, is truly remarkable.
2. Sessile Oak
The sessile oak (Quercus petraea) also reaches heights of 20-40 metres (65-131 feet). It’s similar to the English oak in many ways, but whereas English oak leaves have next-to-no stalks and the corns have long stalks, the sessile oak has the opposite.
Its lobed leaves, which are less rounded the the English oak’s, have long stalks but its acorns have barely any stalk at all.
The trunk of a sessile oak is straighter than that of an English oak and its branches grow straighter. However, the two species hybridize with each other, so you might find a tree with characteristics of both.
Both species are native to much of Europe including the UK and Ireland with their range extending into Russia.
3. Holm Oak
One of the few evergreen oaks, the Holm oak (Quercus ilex) or holly oak can grow to 20 meters (65 feet) in height.
Its oval, dark green leaves are quite different to those of some other oak species, with young leaves resembling holly leaves due to their slight spininess, and older leaves being smooth at the edges.
Holm oak acorns are pointier than the acorns of English oaks or sessile oaks, and like those two trees, the Holm oak is monoecious, which means that it has both male and female flowers on the same tree.
The Holm oak is native to the Eastern Mediterranean.
4. Turkey Oak
The Turkey Oak, or Austrian oak (Quercus cerris) attains heights of 30 meters (98 feet). Its bright green leaves can vary in shape and may be longer than those of other oak species. Their lobes may be very pointed or more rounded.
Turkey oak leaves are known for being thick, with shiny tops and fuzzy undersides.
One of the most notable features of the Turkey oak is its acorns. Each one ranges in color from orange at the bottom to greeny-brown at the tip, and each acorn sits in an acorn cup covered in thick “hairs”. They look like little brown pom-poms or cushions of brown moss.
The Turkey oak is native to south-east Europe and Asia Minor.
5. Cork Oak
Another evergreen oak, the cork oak (Quercus suber) is native to southern Europe and north-west Africa. It can reach a height of 20 meters (65 feet). The leaves of the cork oak are similar to those of the Holm oak, but with a hint of olive green in the coloring.
The cork oak’s main distinguishing feature is its bark, which is used to make the cork in bottles, cork floor tiles, shoes, bags, and a wealth of other cork-based products. (I lived in Portugal; you’d be amazed at how many things are made from cork!)
Thankfully, a cork harvest doesn’t kill the tree as it’s only the outer bark that is removed, and the cork oak tree has the unique ability to regenerate this. Once a tree has reached the age of 25, its bark can be harvested once every 9-12 years.
In Portugal, they mark the trees after harvest to allow growers to keep track of where a tree is in its growth cycle.
6. Northern Red Oak
The northern red oak (Quercus rubra: not to be confused with the southern red oak, Quercus falcata) grows to 25 meters (82 feet) tall.
Native to North America and growing much further south that its name suggests, the northern red oak has large acorns and large, broad leaves with 7-11 pointed lobes.
7. Southern Red Oak
Also called the Swamp Spanish oak, the southern red oak (Quercus falcata) can grow to between 18 and 30 meters (60-100 feet) tall. As with the northern red oak, its acorns take two years to mature. It’s native to the southern parts of the United States.
Its leaves are much thinner through the middle than those of some other oak species, but as their 3-5 lobes are pointed and very deep, the entire leaf can look quite wide. They’re a shiny, deep green on the tops, with a paler, browner, and hairy surface underneath.
A very valuable tree for wildlife, the southern red oak’s acorns are wide, short, and stubby.
8. Pin Oak
Part of the red oak group of American oaks, the pin oak (Quercus palustris) is native to much of the United States east of the Mississippi River. It normally grows to between 15-21 meters tall (50-70 feet), but may grow to 30.5 meters (100 feet) or more if it’s very happy where it’s growing.
Its leaves are deeply lobed with 5-7 lobes each, dark green, and very glossy. Although the pin oak is deciduous, some of its leaves may remain into winter. The shape of the pin oak is different to that of the broader oaks, as it grows with a pyramidal form.
It gets its name from its numerous, slender, arching branches, which are quite distinct from the heavy branches of many other oak species.
9. Live Oak
The live oak (Quercus virginiana) is a large, spreading, truly impressive species. Often seen covered in drifts of trailing Spanish moss, the live oak is native to the southern regions of North America.
It can grow to between 18 and 24 meters (60-80 feet) in height. Its branches can spread, often along the ground, to 46 meters (150 feet)!
The live oak was much-used in shipbuilding and is the wood used to build the inner hull of the U.S.S. Constitution, also known as “Old Ironsides” due to its ability to resist enemy cannon fire.
Often evergreen and officially classed as semi-deciduous, the live oak has smooth, narrow, long, oval leaves. They may remain on the tree through the winter and get replaced in the spring by new leaves.
Slightly rolled at the edges, the live oak’s leaves are dark green and shiny on the tops, and a lighter green underneath.
The visible parts of live oak acorns are very dark brown in color, but the part that rests in the acorn cup or cap is a lighter brown.
The live oak is not to be confused with the coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia), an evergreen California native in the red oak group that has a wonderful, broad crown, spiny, holly-like, bright green leaves, and long, thin acorns that look almost pointed at the tips.
10. Bur Oak
The bur oak or burr oak (Quercus macrocarpa) grows to a height of 21-24 meters (70-80 feet). Its leaves have 5-9 deep, rounded lobes. Like the acorn cups of the Turkey oak, those of the bur oak are fringed, but only around the bottom edge (whereas Turkey oak acorn cups are hairy all over).
The bur oak falls in the white oak group of North American oaks. Oaks are categorized as white or red on the basis of a variety of things, from the shape of their leaves to the color of their wood. There are specific, building- and wood-specific reasons why you might want to distinguish between them.
In case you were wondering, red oak species include the pin oak, northern and southern red oaks, and the willow oak, among others. White oak species include the English oak, white oak, sessile oak, Holm oak, Oregon oak, and bur oak, among others.
11. Willow Oak
The leaves of the willow oak (Quercus phellos) strongly resemble those of various species of willow tree. Long and thin, they’re entirely unlobed and a fresh, bright green in spring, deepening to a rich green in the summer months.
Willow oaks can reach 42 meters (140 feet) in height and prefer moist, poorly drained, acidic soils. They’re native to much of the eastern and central United States, and while they may be pyramidal in shape when they’re young, they become more round with age. For a full list of trees that grow well in acid soils I recommend you read our article on those.
12. Sawtooth Oak
Native to East Asia, including China, Japan, and Korea, and even to Nepal and Laos for some subspecies, the sawtooth oak (Quercus acutissima) grows to about 20 meters (65 feet) tall.
Its serrated leaves resemble those of the chestnut tree (Castanea spp., also in the beech family), and are long and oval with a bright green color. (It really is a wonderful greeny green, but I’m not sure how to describe it to do it justice!)
The sawtooth oak takes on a broad, rounded crown as it ages. Its acorns are quite rounded and rest in fascinating, bristly cups: a bit like those of the Turkey oak, but with fuzzy bits that can look a bit more like an old-fashioned mop.
13. White Oak
The white oak (Quercus alba) is native to the eastern United States. It can reach heights of 15-24 meters (50-80 feet) and is valued as a hardwood timber tree. Like some other oaks, its shape is pyramidal when it’s young, but its crown becomes more spreading and rounded as the tree ages.
The leaves of the white oak have deep, rounded lobes, with 7-9 such lobes per dark green leaf. It gets its name, alba (meaning white), from its pale, ash-grey bark.
14. Shumard Oak
A red oak species, the Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) has rich green, deeply lobed leaves. Its appearance is similar to that of the northern red oak, but the Shumard oak is less fussy about where it grows.
It’s native to much of the central and eastern United States, and grows to between 12-18 meters (40-60 feet) tall.
The Shumard oak is considered an extremely valuable tree for wildlife, and its small round acorns are much-loved by deer, squirrels, and turkeys, among other animals. However, like those of the northern and southern red oaks, the acorns of the Shumard oak take two years to mature.
15. Oregon Oak
Growing to a height ranging from 15-27 meters (50-90 feet) tall, and occasionally as tall as 36 meters (120 feet), the Oregon oak (Quercus garryana) is a white oak species native to the west coast of the United States.
Its leaves have 7-9 often-irregular rounded lobes and are a deep green. When mature, the Oregon oak has a rounded crown. The Oregon oak’s acorns have very shallow caps (or cups) that don’t cover much of the actual acorn.
Oak Trees as Home
Hundreds of different species of insect call oak woods home, and oak trees can support an incredible variety of other creatures, from stag beetles and the caterpillars of purple hairstreak butterflies to fungi, birds, and bats.
Mammals large and small eat acorns, which provide a valuable food source during autumn and into winter. There are said to be 326 different species of wildlife which live exclusively in oak trees.
Oak wood may be the first resource you think of when you wonder about the uses of an oak tree, and it is remarkable wood. As oak trees are very slow to burn, their cut wood is too, and when used as firewood, a couple of decent, dry, and seasoned oak logs can provide steady heat for hours.
Oak wood also makes an excellent building material provided its thoroughly dry. (Green oak will shrink and crack when exposed to changes in temperature and humidity.) Used to build houses and barns and for flooring and barrels, oak wood is solid, strong, and very long-lasting.
Oak was used extensively in shipbuilding; the wood has some flexibility and resists moisture, in addition to its other qualities. In fact, so important was oak for naval use that the HMS Victory, begun in 1759, required between 5500 and 6000 oak trees for its construction.
Medicine, Food, and Ink
While oak wood is a major feature of an oak tree, it isn’t the only one. The leaves, acorns, and bark of oak trees were used historically, depending on the variety and part of the world, to treat tumors, bleeding, poison, tuberculosis, fevers, diarrhea, parasites, swelling, inflammation, kidney stones, and dysentery.
Acorns can be ground into flour for bread making, and the tannin from oak bark has been used in tanning leather for thousands of years. The origin of the word tan in relation to leather is from the use of tannin in the process. The origin of the word tan in relation to sun exposure is in relation to how tannins make leather brown!
Ink has long been made from oak galls, the lumps that an oak trees builds around the eggs of a gall wasp. Oak gall ink was used throughout the world well into the 20th century by everyone from monks to schoolchildren.
One of the oldest known complete Bibles, the Codex Sinaiticus, was written in iron gall ink, most often made from oak galls, during the 4th century.
Oak are Old, but Not Immortal
Oak trees can live a long time: at least 1000 years in some cases. But their long life is not guaranteed, and oaks, like all trees are subject to pests and diseases. They’re also susceptible to the impacts of climate change.
Every species of tree has a set of ideal climatic conditions within which it will grow most happily. Most trees can tolerate a bit of variability and can sometimes adapt to changes over time, but rapid and extreme shifts in temperature, rainfall, and seasonal boundaries, not to mention the introduction of new pathogens, can tax a species beyond its ability to recover.
For example, acute oak decline, first observed in the UK in the late 20th century, can lead to the deaths of affected oak trees within 4-6 years after their symptoms begin.
There is no one causal agent for acute oak decline and bacteria are often involved, but its prevalence in warm regions prone to drought and with high levels of nitrogen pollution in the air point to anthropogenic factors playing a significant role.
To preserve these magnificent trees, it’s up to each of us to take responsibility for our ecological footprints. Tread lightly, and remember that we all share this amazing planet.
The Mighty Oak
A much-loved tree of many different people from a wide variety of cultures for millennia, the oak tree in all its many species is a marvel. From medicine to ink, firewood to building materials, a habitat for precious wildlife to a shady, friendly place to sit, oak trees offer us — and the planet — so much.
If you have the space to plant one, find out the species that are native to your area, and check that your soil type and location are right for their needs.
A healthy oak tree may outlive the world that we know, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
We hope you enjoyed finding out about this sample of the many different Oak trees from around the world.
Featured Image by Kira Nash at kiakari
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Kira Nash lives with her family in the sunny French countryside amidst bees and swallows. A writer, editor, and artist by trade, she also teaches creative meditation. She’s passionate about nature and ecology and tries to live as green a life as possible. In her spare time, she surfs, reads, and plays with her cats, although not usually all at once. She loves tea a little too much.