The South's answer to red oak (Quercus rubra) is the southern red oak, or Spanish oak, Q. falcata. This is a medium sized tree, reaching heights of 50-90 ft (15-27 m), and trunk diameters in excess of 4 ft (1.2 m). The National Champion, growing in Upson City, Georgia, is 150 ft (45 m) tall with a spread of 156 ft (47 m) and a trunk circumference at breast height of 26 ft (7.8 m). Southern red oak has a long trunk with upward reaching branches and a tall, rounded crown in forest-grown specimens. The trunk is shorter and the crown is broader and much more spreading in trees grown in the open. The bark is dark brown and deeply fissured in older trees; lighter and smoother on young trees. Leaves are 4-8 in (12-20 cm) long and variable in shape: They may be bell shaped, widest towards the end with a terminal lobe, or they may be slender with 3-7 narrow pointed lobes, or anywhere in between. Both extremes can occur on the same tree, usually with the broad, bell shaped leaves on the lower branches and the narrow-lobed leaves in the crown. Like other members of the red oak group, the lobes are distinctly sharp tipped with 1-3 bristles. Twigs and winter buds are clothed in downy rust colored hairs. The acorns are 1/2 to 5/8 in (12-15 mm) long, with a third or more of the nut enclosed by the cup. Southern red oak differs from northern red oak in having hairy winter buds versus hairless winter buds; smaller acorns that are only about a half inch (12 mm) long instead of an inch (25 mm) long; and acorn cups extending about a third of the way up the nut instead of only a quarter of the way as in the northern species. See Floridata's profile on northern red oak (Q. rubra) for comparisons and a detailed treatment of oaks in general.
Quercus falcata var. pagodifolia, cherrybark oak, has pagoda shaped leaves with 5-11 shallow lobes and smooth, tight bark with low ridges, like a cherry tree (Prunus serotina, for example).
Southern red foliage helps to identify the tree with its unique bell-shaped leaf bases where the stem connects.
Location Quercus falcata occurs from Long Island and New Jersey, west to southern Illinois and Missouri (skipping the higher elevations of the Appalachian Mountains), south to northern Florida and then west to East Texas. The southern red oak is a common component of mixed pine-hardwood forests. It is often found on dry, sandy slopes and hilltops, but reaches its greatest dimensions in the fertile bottomlands along large rivers. Cherrybark oak occurs in lowlands from Virginia to East Texas, and is a very important tree in the bottomland hardwood forests of the Mississippi Delta.
Culture Light: Southern red oak needs full sun to grow to its maximum potential. Foresters consider it "intolerant" of shade. Moisture: Native to southeastern North America, southern red oak experiences annual rainfalls from 20-60 in (25-150 cm) per year, and established trees tolerate most droughts Mother Nature can throw at them. Hardiness: USDA Zones 6-8. Propagation: The acorns of oaks have hypogeal germination, meaning they develop a root before developing stem and leaves. The acorns of southern red oak, and those of the red oaks in general, cannot be stored. The moisture content of red oak acorns cannot drop below 20-30%, or they will die. Red oak acorns must be chilled under cool, moist conditions (damp sand works) for 30-90 days after they drop in autumn, and then planted the following spring. Sometimes they may begin germination before the end of the prechilling period. In actual practice, the acorns may be planted in autumn, right after dropping from the trees; they will germinate the following spring. (Note that members of the white oak group have no prechilling requirement and their acorns begin to germinate immediately after falling from the tree in the autumn.)
The bark is dark brown and deeply fissured in older trees; lighter and smoother on young trees.
The southern red oak is a handsome and stately tree, suitable for any large landscape. It is a popular street tree in southern towns. Deciduous in winter, the fast growing and long lived southern red oak makes an outstanding shade tree. In fall, the leaves turn a less-than-spectacular reddish brown. The lumber is grouped and marketed with northern red oak. It is not rot-proof, but has many uses in general construction.
There is no oak in Spain that even resembles the southern red oak; presumably the alternate common name refers to the fact that this oak occurs in the former Spanish colonies of the southeastern U.S.