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16 Majestic Oak Trees That Thrive in Illinois


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Illinois is a state with more than 4 million acres of forested land, which leaves room for plenty of trees.

There are between 500 and 600 trees in the Quercus (Oak) genus, with North America having the highest concentration of around 90 species and there are 20 types of oak native to IL. Oak trees produce acorns that have nourished humans and animals as a perennial food source for time immemorial.

Oak trees have long since been symbols of strength and resilience, and are capable of living between 80-500 years. Oak trees are monoecious, with male and female flowers on the same tree.

Oaks spread from temperate climates right down to the tropics, and whilst most are deciduous, some are evergreen trees.

16 Oak Trees That Grow Well in Illinois

1. White Oak (Quercus alba)

White Oak
Image by Joshua Mayer via Flickr

The White Oak is the state tree of Illinois and can be found in every county of the state. White Oaks are capable of living for up to 300 years. The leaves are lobed with rounded tips and the acorns have a greenish tinge to them and a hairy cup. Thy are feasted upon by squirrels, birds, and other endemic wildlife.

The bark is white in color and has marked ridges. The wood is used for musical instruments and for aging whisky among other things.

Other Common Names: Stave Oak

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 60-100 ft tall and 50-90 ft wide

Flowering Season: May

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

2. Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)

swamp white oak
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Swamp White Oak is a medium-sized tree with a slender trunk and irregularly shaped crown. The trunk is usually short and has a moderate growth rate. The leaves can measure 7” long and 4” wide, with 5-7 lobes on each side.

The leaves have a hairy underside. The acorns are quick to mature, taking only 6 months after pollination, measure up to an inch in length, and mature in the fall. They are held on downy stalks and are brown in color. Fall color is yellow, sometimes reddish/purple.

The Swamp White Oak grows easily in medium moist, well-drained slightly acidic soil. They can be found in wetlands and on swamp edges, streams, and on floodplains yet still have good drought tolerance.

Other Common Names: Bicolor Oak

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 50-60 ft tall and wide

Flowering Season: April

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

3. Shingle Oak (Quercus imbricaria)

shingle oak
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Shingle Oak is part of the red oak family and is a deciduous tree that begins life with a pyramidal shape, becoming irregular and rounded with age. The leaves are thin with smooth edges and change color to red/dark yellow in the fall.

The bark features small, prominent ridges. The acorns take up to 18 months to ripen after pollination and are eaten by squirrels and other small mammals/birds.

The common name comes from reddish/brown wood used to make shingles. Once prominent in the Chicago area, their numbers are now significantly reduced because of over harvesting for timber.

Other Common Names: Shingle Oak

Growing Zones: 5-8

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and wide

Flowering Season: Mid-to-late spring

Available at: Nature Hills

4. Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)

scarlet oak
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Scarlet Oak is a large tree with a rounded crown and open aspect. The foliage is glossy and provides a splendid fall show from the ascending branches. In youth, the Scarlet Oak is pyramidal. The bark is scaly and ridged whilst the inner bark is orange/reddish.

The Scarlet Oak is native to Central parts of the United States and prefers dry, sandy, slightly acidic medium. The leaves are large, measuring up to 7” long and 5” wide. The acorns are tiny in size and take up to 18 months to mature.

The leaves turn a deep and gratifying shade of scarlet in the fall. Catkins appear wither with or before the emergence of the new leaves in the spring.

Other Common Names: Scarlet Oak

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 60-80 ft tall and 40-50 ft wide

Flowering Season: May

Available at: Nature Hills

5. Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)

pin oak
Image by Daniel Arrhakis via Flickr

The Pin Oak is a medium-sized deciduous tree of the Red Oak family and features a broad pyramidal crown. The lower branches are descending, the middle horizontal and the upper are ascending. In the wild, the lower limbs are shaded out by other trees, leaving a pin-like stub where the branch used to be, giving the tree its common name.

The Pin Oak is commonly found in bottomlands and wetlands as well as along streams, valleys, and floodplains but can also be found in drier upland regions throughout its range.

The flowers are yellow-green catkins on separate male and female trees in the spring alongside the appearance of the leaves. The acorns are shallow and feature a cup resembling a small saucer that just barely covers the base of the fruit.

The leaves of the Pin Oak are glossy green and lobed.

Other Common Names: Swamp Spanish Oak, Water Oak, and Swamp Oak

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 50-70 ft tall and 25-40 ft wide

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

6. Cherrybark Oak (Quercus pagoda)

cherrybark oak tree
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Cherry bark Oak can be used as a fast-growing shade tree, thanks to its upright and symmetrical growth habit. It features a broad rounded crown filled with glossy dark green leaves with yellow-brown fall color.

The orange/brown scaly acorns persist throughout the winter, ripening in September and November, attracting plenty of squirrels and other animals.

Being a native tree, the Cherrybark Oak supports a large amount of fauna amongst its branches. Winter reveals the eye-catching bark that resembles a cherry tree on mature specimens. They can be planted in groups as a windbreak in either full sun or partial shade.

Other Common Names: Cherry Bark Oak

Growing Zones: 6a-9b

Average Size at Maturity: 80-120 ft tall and 30-60 ft wide

Flowering Season: Mid-spring

Available at: Nature Hills

7. Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)

willow oak leaf
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Willow Oak is a medium to large-sized deciduous tree of the Red Oak family. It’s typically found in the wild in moist bottomland soils.

In cultivation, it does best in moist, well-drained loams and will adapt to clay soils with poor drainage as well as to urban pollution. The leaves feature a willow-like shape, giving the tree its common name.

The Willow Oak features a rounded/oval crown. The fruit are rounded acorns ½” long. The flowers are monoecious yellow/green catkins in spring with the appearance of the leaves. Mature trees develop dark gray/brown trunks.

Other Common Names: Willow Oak

Growing Zones: 6-9.

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 30-40 ft wide

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

8. Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)

southern red oak
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Southern Red Oak is native to the south-central and eastern parts of the United States. It features a straight trunk, spreading branches and medium size. The bark is gray and becomes dark and furrowed with age, eventually turning black.

The leaves have 5-11 lobes and taper off to a point, reminiscent of a pagoda. They feature whitish down on their undersides and become reddish/brown in the fall.

The Southern Red Oak will grow in sandy, loamy, or clay soils. It has a relatively fast growth rate for an oak tree.

Other Common Names: Spanish Oak, and Bottomland Red Oak

Growing Zones: 6-9

Average Size at Maturity: 60-80 ft tall and 50-60 ft wide

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

9. Rock Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana)

rock chestnut oak
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Rock Chestnut Oak is a medium to large-sized deciduous oak of the white oak family, with a tall and rounded crown. It can be found in dry upland areas with poor rocky soil but in cultivation does best in well-drained loams and is drought tolerant once established.

Yellowish/green catkins appear on separate male and female trees after the leaves emerge. The acorns are oval, with a warty cup that encompasses half the length of the fruit.

The acorns are an important food source for many kinds of wildlife. The leaves feature coarse teeth and are leathery in appearance, measure up to 7” long, and turn yellowish brown in the fall. The common name comes from the resemblance of the bark to that of the chestnut, which is dark with rough furrows.

Other Common Names: Basket Oak, Rock Oak

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 60-70 ft tall and 50-70 ft wide

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Nature Hills

10. Black Oak (Quercus velutina)

black oak
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Black Oak features an irregular, rounded crown and is part of the Red Oak family. The leaves are large, 10” long with 7-9 incised lobes, and are glossy dark green above and paler underneath.

Fall sees stunning shades of yellows, oranges, and browns. The acorns are elliptic with the cup about half the size and feed many kinds of birds, small mammals, and deer.

The Black Oak is an adaptable tree that can be grown or seen growing in dry poor sandy soils as well as in clay. The Black Oak can be planted as a shade tree or as a large specimen in bigger yards.

Other Common Names: Black Oak

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 50-60 ft tall and wide

Flowering Season: April – May

Available at: Nature Hills

11. Post Oak (Quercus stellata)

post oak tree
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Post Oak features a dense oval crown and irregular branching. The trunk is reddish-brown/gray. The leaves feature deep lobes, 4 per side, and have wavy margins.

The acorns often measure ¾” long, sometimes as much as 1 ¼”. The Post Oak is variable and can be found with numerous variations in bark, leaf, and growth habit.

The Post Oak grows in dry upland ridges and on the edges of prairies in the wild.

Other Common Names: Iron Oak, Cross Oak

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 35-50 ft tall and wide

Flowering Season: Spring

12. Overcup Oak (Quercus lyrata)

overcup oak
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Overcup Oak is native to Southern Illinois and can be found amongst bottomlands, floodplain forests, and along swamps. Its common name comes from the typical bur-like acorn cup that covers ⅔ of the entire nut.

It’s part of the white oak family and features a wide crown with a straight trunk. Male flowers appear on slender yellow catkins 4-6” long whilst females appear on reddish spikes.

The leaves are deep green, 6-10” long and 4” wide with 5-9 deeply rounded lobes.The leaves shift to tones of yellow and brown in the fall. The acorns ripen in September/October and begin bearing after 25-30 years. The latin name is a reference to the lyre-shaped leaves.

Other Common Names: Swamp Post Oak, Swamp White Oak, Water White Oak

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and wide

Flowering Season: March – June

Available at: Nature Hills

13. Nutall Oak (Quercus texana)

nutall oak
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Nutall Oak is a fast-growing oak with unique leaves that turn a stunning shade of red in the fall. The leaves are similar to those of the Pin Oak, meaning both trees can easily be confused to the uninitiated. The bark is dark shade of brown and the crown develops a rounded shape with age.

The Nutall Oak is one of the most adaptable oaks for landscaping as it can tolerate a wide range of soil types, is fast growing and features a solid branching structure. It’ll tolerate wet soils and is also moderately drought tolerant, which makes it well suited for urban and suburban landscapes.

Other Common Names: Shumard Oak, Texas Red Oak

Growing Zones: 6-9

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 35-50 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

Available at: Nature Hills

14. Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

Bur Oak
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Bur Oak features a wide open crown which is often wider than the tree is tall. The limbs are massive and the horizontal branches feature deeply ridged bark. The leaves are up to 9” long with rounded lobes.

The acorns are large; 1 ½” long with the cup covering up to half of the nut in some cases. The acorns are the largest of all native oak species.

The common name of Bur (or sometimes Burr) refers to the bur of a chestnut, which the cup of the Bur acorn is said to resemble.

The Bur Oak is capable of tolerating a variety of adverse climatic conditions, is the most drought tolerant Oak species and also withstands limey conditions best. In the western US, it’s a pioneer species that overtakes grasslands and prairies.

Other Common Names: Mossycup Oak, Prairie Oak, Savanna Oak, Mossy Overcup Oak

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 60-80 ft tall and wide

Flowering Season: April – May

Available at: Nature Hills

15. Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii)

Chinkapin oak
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Chinkapin Oak features a light gray scaly bark. The leaves are up to 8” long and 4 ½” wide, being wider nearer the apex than the base and are coarsely toothed with a shiny upper side and duller underneath. The flowers appear in narrow cluster and aren’t of great ornamental value. The acorns are 1” long and ¾” wide.

The natural habitat of the Chinkapin Oak is in limestone and calcerous soils, in mixed deciduous pine forests, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Other Common Names: Chinquapin Oak

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 40-50 ft tall and 50-60 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

Available at: Nature Hills

16. Swamp Chestnut Oak (Quercusmichauxii)

Swamp chestnut oak
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Swamp Chestnut Oak is a medium to large oak, native to silty floodprone areas, swamps and rich sandy lowlands. It’s part of the White Oak group and features a narrow, slender crown. The leaves are obovate with rounded teeth and curvy margins, glossy green above and duller below. Fall brings shades of dark red.

The acorns are 1” long and ripen in September to October, and up to ½ of the nut is covered with light hairy scales. The acorns are sweet and can be eaten straight off the tree without having to be previously cooked, making them a valuable sustainable perennial food source. However, they don’t produce acorns until the tree reaches 20-25 years old.

Other Common Names: Basket Oak, Chestnut Oak

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 60-75 ft tall and 30-45 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

Available at: Nature Hills

The Mighty Oak

The Oak Tree has long been seen as a symbol of strength and longevity. Of the more than 500 or 600 different species of Oak, there are around 20 native to the state of Illinois. They are a hardy and adaptable tree, known to be slow growing yet resilient.

Be sure to check out the hardiness map of Illinois to learn more about what kind of Oaks may be suitable for your area, should you wish to plant one of these mighty trees in your own yard.

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