Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 501 Quercus coccinea

Common Names: scarlet oak Family: Fagaceae (beech Family)

scarlet oak tree
This mature scarlet oak has a more rounded form that is typical of individuals grown in the open.


A member of the red oak group, scarlet oak grows 60-100 ft (18-30 m)tall with a trunk 1-3 ft (30-91 cm) in diameter and a narrow crown. Specimens grown in the open, have a wider, more spreading crown. The bark is dark gray and smooth, becoming almost black, rough and scaly with age. The deciduous leaves are 3-6 in (7.6-15 cm) long with 7 (rarely 9) deep lobes. The lobes are so deep they almost reach the midvein. The tips of the lobes end in several needlelike bristles. Autumn leaf color is usually a brilliant scarlet red and persists well into the season. The acorns are egg shaped and are 0.5-1 in (1.3-2.5 cm) a half to 1 in (2.5 cm) long with a cup that encloses a third to a half of the nut. 'Splendens' is a selection with particularly beautiful fall foliage.

scarlet oak acorn
Here's a pretty green scarlet oak acorn ripening in the early autumn sunshine.
scarlet oak leaves
The leaves of the scarlet oak are deeply lobed and turn brilliant red in the fall.


Scarlet oak, Quercus coccinea, occurs in the the eastern US from southern New England and New York, west to Indiana, southern Illinois and Missouri, and south to Georgia, Alabama and northern Mississippi. Growing mainly at elevations above 2000 ft (610 m), scarlet oak is a tree of upland forests, ridges and hillsides, where it commonly grows in association with chestnut oak (Q. prinus), black oak (Q. velutina), white oak Q. alba, sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua, and various hickories.


Scarlet oak is a fast growing tree that does well on poor, sandy, even gravelly, soils. Light: Although saplings can persist in the shade, scarlet oak won't really start growing until it gets full sun. Moisture: Prefers well drained soils and is drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9. Propagation: Propagate from acorns. Scarlet oak can be difficult to transplant and success usually depends on starting with small, container grown specimens. The selection, 'Splendens' is propagated by grafting onto seedlings of the species.


Scarlet oak, with its dependable bright red autumn foliage, is an outstanding shade and street tree. It can be difficult to locate in nurseries, but is worth searching for. In many respects, including general vigor, site tolerance, adaptability, growth rate and fall color, scarlet oak is superior to other, morphologically similar red oaks with which it is sometimes confused. Despite the difficulty in obtaining it, scarlet oak is widely planted in eastern North America and Europe, and is a favorite in England.

White tailed deer, squirrels, turkeys and other wildlife relish scarlet oak acorns. The wood is a rich reddish brown, coarse grained, heavy and strong, and when harvested, usually mixed with the wood of other red oaks.

scarlet oak bark
The grayish brown bark of the scarlet oak is thick and deeply furrowed.


Scarlet oak is superficially similar to pin oak (Q. palustris), red oak (Q. rubra), shumard oak (Q. shumardii), and southern red oak (Q. falcata), and is sometimes confused with these species in the trade. The acorn cups of pin oak and red oak are like shallow saucers, enclosing only a quarter or less of the nut, unlike those of scarlet oak which are like bowls, enclosing a third or more of the nut. The acorn cups of shumard oak are intermediate, enclosing about a third of the nut. The lobes on the leaves of red oak and southern red oak are cut less than half way to the midveins, whereas the leaf lobes of scarlet oak are much deeper, cut considerably more than half way to the midveins.

Steve Christman 11/28/02; updated 10/15/03, 11/09/07

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Quercus species profiled on Floridata:

Quercus acutissima

( sawtooth oak )

Quercus alba

( white oak )

Quercus bicolor

( swamp white oak )

Quercus cerris

( Turkish oak, Turkey oak )

Quercus coccinea

( scarlet oak )

Quercus falcata

( southern red oak, Spanish oak )

Quercus geminata

( sand live oak )

Quercus hemisphaerica

( laurel oak, upland laurel oak, damn laurel oak )

Quercus imbricaria

( shingle oak, northern laurel oak )

Quercus laevis

( turkey oak, blackjack oak )

Quercus macrocarpa

( bur oak, mossycup oak )

Quercus michauxii

( swamp chestnut oak, basket oak, cow oak )

Quercus muehlenbergii

( chinkapin oak, yellow chestnut oak, chinquapin oak, yellow oak )

Quercus nigra

( water oak, spotted oak, possum oak )

Quercus nuttallii

( nuttall oak )

Quercus palustris

( pin oak, Spanish oak, swamp oak )

Quercus phellos

( willow oak )

Quercus prinus

( chestnut oak,rock chestnut oak,rock oak,basket oak,tanbark oak )

Quercus robur

( English oak, pedunculate oak, truffle oak )

Quercus rubra

( northern red oak )

Quercus shumardii

( Shumard oak, Shumard red oak )

Quercus velutina

( black oak, quercitron oak, yellowbark oak, yellow oak )

Quercus virginiana

( live oak )

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