1209 Quercus velutinaCommon Names: black oak, quercitron oak, yellowbark oak, yellow oak Family: Fagaceae (none entered Family)
Black oak is not a particularly large tree as oaks go, usually getting no more than 60-80 ft (18-24 m) in height, but it can get up to 140 ft (42 m) tall under the best of conditions. It has an open, rounded to spreading crown and a long, straight trunk. The bark on mature trees is dark brown, nearly black, with pronounced ridges and deep fissures. The inner bark is orange or yellow. The deciduous leaves of black oak are 4-8 in (10-20 cm) long and 3-5 in (8-12 cm) wide, with 5-7 bristle tipped lobes: a rather typical looking oak leaf that is dark shiny green on top, lighter yellowish green below and turns dull orange-red in autumn. Black oak is in the red oak group and its acorns take two seasons to mature. The acorns are one-half to almost an inch (1.2-2 cm) long, and the bowl shaped cup encloses about half of the nut. There’s a fringe of tiny hairlike scales along the margin of the cup. The easiest way to distinguish black oak from other oaks is by its orange or yellow inner bark. Just scrape a little of the outer bark off a small branch to expose the inner bark.
Quercus velutina is a common tree in much of eastern North America from southern ME west to MN and IA, thence south to eastern TX and northwestern FL. Black oak is partial to slopes and dry upland sites. It typically grows in mixed hardwood forest communities with American elm (Ulmus americana), white ash (Fraxinus americana), black walnut (Juglans nigra), hickories such as mockernut (Carya tomentosa), bitternut (C. cordiformis) , pignut (C. glabra) and shagbark (C. ovata), and other oaks including post (Q. stellata), scarlet (Q. coccinea), southern red (Q. falcata), chestnut (Q. prinus), and blackjack (Q. marilandica). Black oaks seem to grow their best in the Ohio River Valley.
Light: Black oak seedlings need sun to partial shade. They do not survive under a dense canopy. Moisture: Black oak has a longer taproot and is more tolerant of dry soils than many oaks, including white and red oak. However it is less tolerant of dry sites than some others such as blackjack and post oaks. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 8. Propagation: Acorns germinate in the spring after fall sowing. They cannot be stored for more than six months, and must be chilled for at least 30-60 days under moist conditions before they will germinate. The acorns cannot be allowed to dry out. Test for viability: Acorns that float are usually not sound and should be discarded.
Black oak is a relatively fast growing and short lived oak, rarely living more than 150 or 200 years. Black oaks start producing acorns around 20 years of age. Autumn color is not as spectacular as that of red, scarlet or white oak, but black oak does make a nice shade tree.
The acorns, which are produced in abundance every 2-3 years, are eaten by many kinds of wildlife, and can be a critical food in some winters. Black oak acorns usually are more heavily damaged by weevils than the acorns of other oaks, and that’s a good thing if you eat weevils. The wood is heavy and strong and an important source of lumber, usually marketed as red oak”. The orange colored inner bark is very bitter to the taste and was formerly used as a source of tannin for tanning animal hides, and as the makings of a yellow dye called quercitron. Native Americans used the inner bark for a variety of medical purposes. I guess they believed that anything that tasted that bad must be good for you.
Black oak is a component of the climax forest in the eastern and southern US, but it cannot persist without periodic canopy-opening disturbances. In nature, black oaks persist in mixed forests only when they are not overtopped by taller trees. In forests on good sites, black oaks are often succeeded by sugar maple (Acer saccharum), American beech (Fagus grandiflora), hickories and white oak (Q. alba). On poorer sites, post oak, blackjack oak, and scarlet oak may eventually out-compete the black oaks.
Young black oaks sprout back from the stump after cutting or burning better than most other oaks. In fact, in some areas, most of the black oaks are of sprout origin.
Steve Christman 1/23/14