The Nuttall oak, or Quercus nuttallii, is one of the lesser known North American oaks. It grows on the lower Mississippi river floodplain in heavily compacted, often inundated soils. That ability to grow in marginal environments combined with unrivaled bright red autumn color has made the Nuttall oak a highly recommended tree for poorly drained and disturbed urban sites. If the location can accommodate its size, then this magnificent shade tree would thrive for generations.

Nuttall oak is capable of reaching 100 feet or more in height but it is usually seen at 70 to 80 feet. The leaves are sharply lobed and are four to eight inches long and two to five inches wide and give the tree a medium-fine texture. The early spring foliage emerges a lustrous reddish purple before turning pale emerald green with distinct red veins and by summer are a somber, dark green. Then with the cooling temps the tree becomes ablaze with bright red foliage, often later than many other trees, prolonging the autumnal show. Nuttall oak also produces small acorns that are immensely popular with wildlife who will quickly hide them away or consume them on the spot. The bark is dark, greyish brown, and divided into plates.

The Nutall Oak actually resembles the more popular Shummard oak, but it has richer autumn tones, much better structure, and a tougher, more versatile character. It is a magnet for wildlife of all sorts, especially birds and squirrels and other small mammals.

This imposing oak should be grown in full sun on any soil, acid or alkaline, and is very tolerant of poorly-drained areas and disturbed sites such as new housing areas, perhaps making it the best all around urban/suburban oak available, though it is often hard to find in the average plant nursery. In the US it grows from the cold of the upper Midwest all the way to the Gulf Coast, which is quite a range. Elsewhere in the world it is usually found in arboreta but rarely in the trade. It is certainly worth the effort to find one though. It will grow in the UK, New Zealand and Australia.


Nuttall oak

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