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Video:How to Identify an Oak Tree

with Lea Elleseff

Oak trees are commonly found in the United States, but how do you know if you're sitting under one's shade? On a walk through the woods, learn the basics of oak tree identification, and you'll be able to distinguish the oak from other trees.See Transcript

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Transcript:How to Identify an Oak Tree

Hi, I'm Lea Elleseff. It is a splendid fall day here in Western NY, and a perfect opportunity to show you how to identify an oak tree. With hundreds of trees at every glance, this northeastern landscape is an ideal place to go exploring. So, let's take a closer look and see how we can tell an oak apart from the rest. Starting generally, we note that an oak is a broadleaf tree, as opposed to a conifer.

Oak Tree Leaf Identification

Let's begin, by studying one. The leaves of most North American oaks have lobes and sinuses which are alternately, as opposed to symmetrically, placed on either side the leaf.

Oaks often grow side-by-side with maple trees, whose leaves also have lobes and sinuses. We can identify the difference by observing that maple leaves with lobes have them symmetrically arranged, and that oak leaves are generally longer than they are wide.

Acorns and Oak Trees

When you approach a tree check its branches and the ground around it for acorns. All oaks, but no other trees have acorns as their fruit. Acorns vary in shape from species to species, but ultimately they all pretty much look like acorns. These fruits provide tasty treats for birds, so studying trees is a good way to study animal life as well.

Identifying White and Black Oak Trees

Moving on, we discover that many species of oak fall into one of two groups- white and black- which are easily told apart by their leaves.

Black oaks have edgy lobes and sharp teeth that come off them like points. White oaks have rounded lobes and usually lack sharp teeth. But despite their differences, observed together white and black oaks resemble each other, like family members often do.

Oak Tree Sapling Identification

Here on my land that I share with five friends, I found a patch of oak saplings. If it was any later in the season, no palm-like leaves would grace this tree and it would be hard to say which species of oak it was, especially since only mature oaks carry acorns.

Taking a closer look at the sapling's leaves, we recognize that this falls into the white oak group, and in fact this particular species is aptly named the White Oak. We can tell by the lobes, which are rounded, between 5 and 9 in number and smooth. The red autumn color is another clue!

How to Identify Oak Tree Species

Within the white and black groups are many different species of oak. When you get to the level of differentiating amongst them, your best bet is to study the leaves and the acorns, alongside a trusty field guide. I got this one at the library.

Of course there are other factors to consider when identifying an oak tree, like the shade and texture of its bark, and its shape when viewed in its entirety. These are just some of the details to look forward to as you continue with your learning journey.

Thank you for watching, you can now safely go into the woods with your friends and show them which ones are the oaks. To learn more visit on About.com.
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