Black Oak, Maybe

by Carl Strang

Not being a botanist, primarily, I am inclined to miss plants unless I really focus on them. I count on their flowers or some other eye-catching feature to draw my attention. Such was the case last week with a particular oak in the north savanna at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

It doesn’t show so well in the above photo, but the leaves on the tree had turned yellow.

That is in contrast to the generally reddish and brown tones of the dominant white and bur oaks, as well as the bright red of the Hill’s oaks. I made my way to the tree, and found that its leaves were shaped like typical black oak leaves.

The lobes are shallow, unlike those of pin or Hill’s oak, and they don’t show the rhythmic size and shape of red oak lobes. The bark is consistent with black oak, though the tree is only a foot in diameter and so I can’t call that conclusive. The acorn caps are somewhere between those of black and Hill’s oak, though more like the former. For now I am calling it a black oak, though I think there’s a good chance that it’s a black/Hill’s hybrid. I am comforted by the fact that even botanists struggle with the oaks.


  1. November 5, 2010 at 7:04 am

    How about the buds?

    • natureinquiries said,

      November 6, 2010 at 7:02 am

      Hi, Scott,
      Thanks for the suggestion. I had not looked closely at the buds of the Hill’s oaks or the tree in question. There was a huge contrast. The Hill’s had little pubescence, were mainly brown and smooth. The small amount they had was slightly more concentrated in the tip ends. The buds were slightly smaller than those of the tree I am calling a black oak. Its buds were gray fuzzy all over, in some cases the pubescence longer in the tip halves.

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