Northern Red Oak, Black Oak, Pin Oak, Scarlet Oak, Bur Oak, Swamp White Oak, Sawtooth Oak, Shingle Oak, English Oak

There are 9 species of oak in the Yard, the most for a single genus (Quercus). The most common oak in the Yard is the northern red oak, with 25. Dozens of red oaks were planted in 1914 to replace the dying elms, but the plantings did not discourage even more American elms from being planted also. The large red oaks in the Old Yard are part of this planting. There were some red oaks also planted in the relandscaping 10 years ago.

These northern red oaks form an imposing canopy over the quad bounded by Straus Hall, Massachusetts Hall, and Matthews Hall.

The black oak is less common than the northern red oak, but can often be confused for the latter due to similar leaves. However, a key difference is the bark. Red oak bark stays quite smooth, even at maturity. The black oak bark develops deep ridges with exposed orange inner bark.

The bark of the black oak.

The pin oak has 9 representatives in the Yard. It has very deep U-shaped lobes in its leaves. The bark in time eventually develops thin irregular ridges.

Two pin oak trees near the gate that leads to the Science Center

The scarlet oak can sometimes be hard to identify. The leaves sometimes look like those of the red oak and sometimes like the pin oak. One characteristic is bark that looks like that of the black oak near the base (without the orange) and more smooth with ridges on the younger branches.

Two scarlet oaks in front of Weld Hall. Notice the darker bark near the very bottom of the trunk.

The next oak is a very special oak. The bur oak at maturity is a very impressive, awe-inspiring oak. They are very rare on the East Coast in urban plantings, mainly because it is vey slow growing. However, anyone from the Midwest who is familiar with these trees can attest to their beauty and grandeur. But we will have to wait some time for this to happen at Harvard. The only bur oak was planted just a few years ago. Second of all, it was planted in the most hidden, inaccessible area of the Yard. Viewing it requires ducking under a yew bush next to Phillips Brooks House. I would certainly advocate more bur oak plantings in the Yard, especially in more visible areas. How impressive would it be to come to a reunion thirty years from now and see a maturing bur oak gracing the yard with its strength and beauty.

This isolated bur oak will one day mature into an impressive awe inspiring tree. It's too bad no one will be able to see it at this location.

Bur Oak leaves.

Native bur oaks line my street in Omaha, Nebraska. I guess I'm a little biased.

A mature bur oak in Omaha.

The swamp white oak shown below is one of the largest, most graceful trees in the Yard. The simgle tree dominates the Sever Quad.

The swamp white oak on the left of the image may be one of the oldest trees in the Yard.

The sawtooth oak is an interesting specimen oak. It has long, oval-shaped leaves, with sharp serrated margins, just like the blade of a saw. Its bark also has an orange tinge to it. Many of its leaves persist on the tree throughout the winter.

There are several sawtooth oaks in Sever Quad.

Shingle oak. It was named this way because early pioneers would use the wood from this tree to shingle their roofs.

An English oak in front of Harvard Hall.


Virginia Tech Dendrology info- red oak, black oak, pin oak, scarlet oak, bur oak, swamp white oak, sawtooth oak, shingle oak, English oak.


Created by Ryan Lynch

Last updated May 28, 2007