865 Quercus roburCommon Names: English oak, pedunculate oak, truffle oak Family: Fagaceae (beech Family)
English oak is a majestic tree with a very wide spreading crown, a short sturdy trunk, and deeply fissured gray brown bark. It can grow to 140 ft (42.7 m) tall with a rounded spread of 80 ft (24.4 m) or more, but is usually smaller in cultivation. English oak has small deciduous leaves, 3-5 in (7.6-12.7 cm) long, with 3-7 pairs of rounded lobes, and extremely short petioles (leaf stems). They remain deep green long into autumn before turning brown and then persisting on the tree well into winter. The typical oak flowers are hanging catkins which appear with the emerging leaves in early spring. The acorns are elongate, about 1 in (2.5 cm) long, with a cup that covers 1/3 of the nut. They are borne singly or in clusters of 2-5 which dangle on a single long 1-4 in (5.1-10.2 cm) peduncle.
English oak can be distinguished from the similar North American species, white oak (Q. alba), by its leaves which have earlike lobes on the bases and extremely short petioles. There are several named subspecies and varieties, and many selections of English oak, as well as hybrids with other species, are offered in the trade. One reference lists more than 100 cultivars. The young foliage of 'Concordia' is bright yellow. 'Fastigiata' (upright English oak) has erect branches and a narrow pyramidal form. 'Pendula' has a weeping habit. 'Nigra' has purplish foliage. 'Variegata' has leaves with white margins. 'Holophylla' has leaves without lobes. 'Crimschmidt' is a hybrid between English oak and white oak; it has a fastigiate habit and foliage that turns reddish in autumn.
English oak, Quercus robur,is native to Europe, western Asia and northern Africa. It was a major component of the original forest in England. It is widely planted in Europe as a landscape specimen and shade tree. It was brought to the American Colonies from England in the 17th century. It is widely planted in Canada and the northern U.S. and has escaped and reproduced on its own in a few areas.
CultureEnglish oak is tolerant of acidic to alkaline soils. It grows only a foot (0.3 m) or so a year in youth but can live more than 700 years. Light: Full sun. Moisture: English oak does well with regular watering. It cannot tolerate extended droughts. Powdery mildew, a fungus that grows on the leaves, can be a problem in humid climates. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 8. Cold hardiness is variable and even mature trees sometimes are killed by a hard winter freeze. Nor is English oak well-adapted to the hot, dry summers of the middle or southern U.S. Outside its native range, English oak is best adapted to Canada and the northeastern U.S., in zones 5 and 6. Propagation: Oak species are propagated by seed. The acorns are planted as soon as they mature and left outside over the winter. Named cultivars are propagated by grafting. Fast growing sucker shoots (sometimes called "water sprouts") are grafted onto seedlings of the same or a related species.
English oak is used as a shade tree or a specimen tree in larger landscapes. It is popular in Europe, Canada and the northeastern U.S. The species and most cultivars of English oak are best suited for parks and other large areas. Upright English oak (cv. 'Fastigiata') is a good substitute for lombardy poplar if you want a deciduous cone shaped accent tree. Some of the hybrids involving this species and various American oaks are gaining in popularity. The wood has been a valuable commodity for centuries, and during Britain's reign on the High Seas, many a sailing ship was made from the fine hard wood of English oak. Throughout the British Isles many ancient English oaks have their own names.
There are more than 500 species of oaks, genus Quercus. For North Americans, there are many native species to choose from that are probably better adapted to local conditions and would likely prove more satisfying than English oak. See Floridata's profiles on the native American deciduous oaks shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) and red oak (Quercus rubra), and the evergreen live oak (Quercus virginiana).
Steve Christman 11/20/00; updated 11/12/03