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OAK LEAF COMPARISON: Nine of the most common northern full size Oaks: Leaves of Oak trees are highly variable on the same tree. Within sub-groups they are somewhat similar from species to species. On certain species, with similar leaves, many different leaves should be looked at and if there is still uncertainty then other characteristics should be cross-checked, such as the acorn, knowing where a particular species grows - both in terms of terrain and geographic location. The species on this sheet are grouped as to whether the leaf lobes have pointed bristles or not. The link on the name takes you to a more compete description and photo page.
Below: Bur Oak, Quercus macrocarpa Michx.: Ovate, broadest at the middle, (Fiddle-shaped) with many rounded lobes and a broad rounded tip that may resemble a crown as the tip lobes appear more as large teeth instead of lobes. There is considerable variety on how deep the lobes cut to the central rib. On some the indentations are slight, on others the two middle lobes are divided almost to the central rib. Color is dark green and slightly shiny on top and gray-green with fine hair under. The leaf stalk is short. Bases are rounded to pointed. Fall color is a rusty brown.
Below: Swamp White Oak, Quercus bicolor Willd.: Ovate with a triangular or narrow wedge shape base and with a rounded point at the tip. The edges are not deeply cut but with broad large teeth, either on the entire leaf or just the top half. There can be many variations. The upper leaf is a dark shiny green and the underside whitish with dense fine hair. Fall color is yellow to rusty brown - not considered striking.
Below: White Oak, Quercus alba L.: Oblong to ovate in shape, with a base that is a narrow wedge shape to triangular with the point forming the short stalk. There will be 7 to 10 (5 to 9 usually) ascending lobes looking like fingers, and a rounded apex at the top end of the leaf. The lateral lobes indent to the mid-vein by 1/3 to 7/8ths of the distance and these lobes too have a somewhat rounded tip. The upper surface is a bright gray-green and underside is more whitish with erect hairs that disappear as the leaf matures. The secondary leaf veins are arched. Fall color can be yellow to yellowish-red to mulberry. Leaves from the juvenile part of the tree can resemble those of Swamp White Oak and Bur Oak.
Below: Chinkapin Oak, Quercus muehlenbergii Engelm.: Leaves occur only on the current years twigs and are obovate to oblong in shape, up to 7 inches long and half as wide, widest just above the middle, with a dark green leathery upper surface and a much paler underside. Leaf margins undulate with either teeth or shallow lobes, the teeth or lobes are rounded or more acutely upward pointed. Sinuses are lacking. Leaf bases are truncate to cuenate (wedge-shaped). Secondary leaf veins usually number 10 to 14. The underside of the leaf lacks tufts of straight hairs found in some other oaks but can have appressed stellate hairs.
Below: Black Oak, Quercus velutina Lam.: Elliptical, long stalked, usually with 5 to 9 (5 usually) lobes that are either shallow or deep and narrow with the sinus near the midvein rounded. Lobes end with a few bristle-tipped teeth (awn. The leaf base can be obtuse to truncate in shape and is usually a bit unequal from side to side. The upper surface is shiny dark green and the underside a pale green with some brown hairs along the main veins. The secondary veins appear raised on both surfaces. Fall color is brown to dull red.
Below: Northern Red Oak, Quercus rubra L.: Elliptical in shape, on a slender stalk, divided into 7 to 11 shallow, wavy lobes cleft 1/3 to 1/2 of the distance to the mid-vein. The lobes have bristly tips (awns) and are rounded in the sinus near the mid-vein. The upper surface is a duller green, the underside a dull lighter green with tufts of hair along the mid-vein. Fall color is reddish-brown. A deeply lobed example (like the 1st photo) will resemble Northern Pin Oak shown below, but in viewing several examples note that the section along the mid-vein will generally have more leaf. Nor are they as shiny as Black Oak shown above.
Below: Northern Pin Oak, Quercus ellipsoidalis E. J. Hill: Elliptical, broadest across the lobes above the middle, and can be divided over half way to the mid-vein with 5 to 7 deep lobes (sometimes 9). Each lobe ends in several bristle-tipped teeth (awns). Between the lobes (the sinuses) the area is generally round. There is a short leaf stalk, a shiny green upper surface and lighter under with tufts of hair along the mid-vein. The branching secondary veins appear raised from the surface. Fall color is brown to a deep red.
Below: Pin Oak, Quercus palustris Münchh.: Of the 9 oaks listed here, this one is fairly consistent in looks except for the base which can be truncate (1st photo) or obtuse (2nd photo), otherwise, the leaf is elliptic to oblong in outline with 5 to 7 deep lobes, cut nearly to the mid-vein (much deeper than the Northern Pin Oak shown above). The sinuses of the lobes are irregular to rounded with the larger lobes forming a "U" shape. The lobes are tipped with pointed bristles (awns). The upper leaf surface is bright shiny green, the lower surface paler. Both surfaces are free of hair except for tufts of brownish hair on the underside at the veins. If the base is truncate in shape the base pair of lobes is frequently recurved. Fall color is red to reddish brown.
Below: Scarlet Oak, Quercus coccinea Münchh.: Elliptical to oval in outline, deeply divided, nearly to the mid-vein or at least half way, with 7 to 9 lobes, each lobe ending in bristle tipped teeth (awns). The sinuses between the lobes are wide and round forming more than a half circle. Stalks are long and slender. Secondary veins of the leaf appear raised on both surfaces. The upper surface is a shiny green, the underside pale green with tufts of hair along the mid-veins. The leaf tip is pointed, the base is blunt (truncate) to slightly pointed (obtuse). Fall color is scarlet.