Nuttall oak at The Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Nuttall oak bark
Nuttall oak is a medium sized to large oak reaching 70-100 ft (21-30 m) in height with a trunk 2-4 ft (60-120 cm) in diameter. The National Champion, in Washington County, Mississippi, is 110 ft (33 m) tall with a trunk diameter at breast height of almost 7 ft (2.1 m). Nuttall oak usually develops a symmetrical, rounded crown, and large specimens grown in the open are quite attractive. Nuttall oak is very similar in appearance to scarlet oak (Q. coccinea), pin oak (Q. palustris), and Shumard oak (Q. shumardii), but the leaves tend to be longer (up to 6 in; 15 cm) and narrower than those of the other oaks. The most reliable way to identify nuttall oak is by the habitat in which it grows. Nuttall oak leaves are lobed, with deep sinuses and the lobes often nearly triangular in shape. There are 5-9, usually 7 lobes with a bristle or two at each tip. The foliage turn a rich red in fall. The oblong acorn is about an inch (2.5 cm) long and the cup is bowl shaped, enclosing nearly half of the nut. A member of the red oak group, nuttall oak acorns are bitter to the taste and take two years to mature.
Nuttall oak (Quercus nuttallii) is a dominant hardwood in the bottomland hardwood forests of the Mississippi Delta in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, southeastern Missouri, extreme western Tennessee, and eastern Texas, where it occurs along the Red River, a major tributary of the Mississippi. The species also ranges eastward across central Mississippi and into central Alabama. Nuttall oak is usually associated with baldcypress (Taxodium distichum), ashes (Fraxinus spp.), elms (Ulmus spp.), honey and water locust (Gleditsia triacanthos and G. aquatica) and red and silver maple (Acer rubrum and A. saccharinum). Nuttall oak grows on very poorly drained clay soils that flood periodically, usually in winter. It does not occur in permanent swamps that have standing water in the growing season, nor does it occur on well drained soils.
Culture Light: Nuttall oak is considered intolerant of shade and seedlings survive only in gaps or openings in the canopy. Grow this forest dominant in full sun. Moisture: In nature, nuttall oak is accustomed to annual flooding and can tolerate inundation for several months at a time in the winter. But, as we know, plants occur where they can survive, not where they would grow best or prefer to be. Nuttall oak is dominant on poorly drained clay soils because few other trees can survive the annual flooding and frequently waterlogged soils, and thus there is little competition for space, sunlight and nutrients. Positioned in better drained, more loamy soils, nuttall oak will thrive and probably grow faster and larger, as is known to be the case for baldcypress and other wetland species.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 6-8. The given hardiness zones reflect the natural distribution of nuttall oak. Its limits under cultivation are not known, but Nuttall oak will probably perform well in zones 5-9.
Propagation: Acorns should be planted in fall and can be expected to germinate the following spring.
Nuttall oak leaves changing to autumn color.
The nuttall oak's high protein acorns are a valuable food source for wildlife.
Nuttall oak is a fast growing tree. It has nice fall color and is tolerant of wet soils. Still uncommon in the horticultural trade, this handsome alternative for pin oak and Shumard oak deserves more attention. In his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Michael Dirr says that nuttall oak is superior to the others because of its faster growth, better fall color, better shape because of a central leader that rarely forks, and better adaptability to wet soils.
The wood is often sold as "red oak" and usually has similar properties, but is sometimes more knotty and with more insect damage than true red oak (Q. rubra). In the poorly drained Mississippi bottomlands, nuttall oak is the only commercially valuable lumber tree.
Nuttall oak is almost always a reliable producer of acorns, and is therefore very important for wildlife, especially ducks, turkeys, squirrels and deer. Nuttall oak acorns have a higher protein content (35%) than most other oaks. Wildlife managers in the Mississippi delta create "green-tree reservoirs" for ducks and duck hunters by flooding bottomland forests in winter. Nuttall oak acorns drop into the flooded woods and attract mallards, wood ducks and other species.