Determining the identity of a tree can be a bit challenging, especially during the winter when leaves are not present. This is when knowing other characteristics are very helpful. Take the oak trees, as an example; the leaf of the red oak and black oak are somewhat similar, so recognizing differences in the bark, growth habits, or general outline of the tree will be helpful when trying to tell them apart. The acorn of the red oak is also much different than the black oak.

The most common oaks found in Frederick County are white oak, chestnut oak, red oak, black oak, scarlet oak, and pin oak. Each one of these trees has fairly characteristic acorns. The white oak acorn is relatively small and has an oblong shape. The acorn cap covers a small part of the acorn. The chestnut oak has a large, yellow, oval acorn that eventually turns chestnut brown. The acorn of the red oak is fairly large and more rounded, with an acorn cap that covers a relatively small part of the acorn. The pin oak acorn is relatively small and rounded, rather striped looking, and the cap has smooth scales that cover about a quarter of the acorn. The scarlet oak acorn is small and rounded with concentric rings around the tip of the acorn. The black oak acorn is small, rounded, and the fringed cap covers about 2/3 of the acorn.

Red Oak AcornsEastern Black Oak AcornChestnut Oak AcornsScarlet Oak Acorns

There are two main families of oak trees: the red oak family, and the white oak family. Some of the differentiating characteristics of these families is that the red oak family acorns do not germinate right away, and they typically have to go through the winter before they do so. Red oak acorns also contain abundant tannins, so they are not as palatable to wildlife right after they fall off the tree. It also takes some overwintering to break down these tannins so they taste better. The white oaks, on the other hand, germinate soon after falling off the tree, and tend to be very good tasting to animals. This is especially true with the chestnut oak, which is sought out by many animals.

Article by FCFCDB

Photos credit: - Jeffrey Pippen

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