Cherrybark Oak
Quercus pagoda
Beech family (Fagaceae)

Description: This tree is 60-110' at maturity, forming a relatively long trunk about 2-6' across and a rounded crown. Trees that are grown in open areas tend to have stouter trunks and broader crowns than those that are found in heavily forested areas. The trunk bark of mature trees is gray or brownish gray with shallow furrows and short scaly ridges. The bark of large branches is similar, but more scaly and flaky, while smaller branches are more smooth. Twigs are gray, smooth, and glabrous, while young shoots are pale green and densely pubescent. Alternate leaves occur along the twigs and young shoots. These leaves are about 5-10" long and 3-7" across, consisting of 2-3 pairs of lateral primary lobes and a terminal lobe. These lobes are moderately deep, and they are often subdivided into 2-3 shallow secondary lobes, providing them with a blocky-angular appearance. The tips of the lobes are pointed, while the sinuses between the lobes are concave (rather than sharply indented). The base of each leaf is usually broadly wedge-shaped, rather than rounded. The upper leaf surface is dark green and glabrous, while the lower leaf surface is grayish white and densely covered with fine stellate hairs. The petioles are 1-3" long and pubescent.

Cherrybark Oak is monoecious, forming male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers in separate locations on the same tree. The male flowers are produced in pendulous catkins about 3-6" long. Each male flower is very small (about 3 mm. or 1/8" across), consisting of several stamens that are partially enclosed by a ciliate calyx with multiple lobes. The central stalk of each catkin is hairy. The female flowers are produced in small clusters on a short spike less than " long. Each female flower is also very small (about 3 mm. or 1/8" across), consisting of an ovoid ovary with 3 stigmata that is largely enclosed by a hairy calyx. The blooming period occurs during mid-spring for 1-2 weeks. The flowers are cross-pollinated by the wind. Afterwards, fertile female flowers develop into acorns up to 15 mm. (5/8") long that become mature the following year during the fall (2-year development cycle). Each acorn has a moderately shallow cup (extending up to one-third of its length) that is attached to the apex of the nut. The cup is minutely pubescent.

The preference is full sun, moist conditions, and loamy soil. Occasional flooding is tolerated during the winter and spring, otherwise standing water is harmful to the health and development of this tree. Individual trees can live up to 300 years. Acorn production begins at about the age of 25. This tree is hardy to about Zone 6 or 7.

Range & Habitat: The native Cherrybark Oak is occasional in southern Illinois, while in the rest of the state it is absent (see Distribution Map). Its range extends southward and eastward into a large area of southeastern United States. Habitats consist of bottomland woodlands, floodplain woodlands, areas along rivers and streams, and well-drained hammocks within swamps. Cherrybark Oak occurs with other moisture-loving deciduous trees, sometimes becoming co-dominant with Quercus palustris (Pin Oak). In the southeastern United States, it is sometimes cultivated as a street tree.

Faunal Associations:
Many insects feed on the leaves, wood, sap, and other parts of this tree. The Cherrybark Oak can be considered a preferred host to the following leafhoppers: Eratoneura adunca, Eratoneura gilesi, Eratoneura lunata, Eratoneura maga, Eratoneura pamelae, Eratoneura patris, and Eratoneura staminea. Other insect feeders include aphids, treehoppers, lace bugs, plant bugs, leaf beetles, weevils, long-horned beetles, gall wasps, walkingsticks, and the caterpillars of moths, butterflies, and skippers. More specific information about these insects can be found in the following tables: Wood-Boring Beetle Table, Leafhopper Table, Lepidoptera Table, and Insect Table. These insects attract woodpeckers, warblers, flycatchers, thrushes, and other insectivorous birds to oak trees.

The small acorns of Cherrybark Oak are an important source of food to such birds as the Wood Duck, Wild Turkey, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Red-Headed Woodpecker, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, and Tufted Titmouse. The acorns are also a source of food to many mammals, including the Black Bear, Raccoon, White-Tailed Deer, Gray Squirrel, Fox Squirrel, and White-Footed Mouse. Tree squirrels and Blue Jays, in particular, play a key role in dispersing these acorns to new locations. The foliage and twigs of oaks are occasionally browsed by White-Tailed Deer. The Summer Tanager, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Northern Parula, Yellow-Throated Vireo, Swainson's Hawk, and other birds construct their nests in oak trees. Overall, the value of these trees to wildlife is high.

Photographic Location: A bottomland woodland at the Heron Pond Nature Preserve in southern Illinois.

Cherrybark Oak has often been regarded as a variety of Spanish Oak (Quercus falcata), Quercus falcata pagodaefolia, but it is now considered a distinct species of oak. These two oaks can be distinguished primarily by the appearance of their leaves: Spanish Oak has leaves with narrow rounded bases (rather than wedge-shaped bases) and its lateral lobes often have simple acute tips because they are less likely to be divided into shallow secondary lobes. This latter oak also prefers drier habitats than Cherrybark Oak. With the exception of the Spanish Oak, Cherrybark Oak can be distinguished from other Quercus spp. in the Red Oak group by the the dense fine pubescence on its leaf undersides. Other species in the Red Oak group have either glabrous undersides or their pubescence is restricted to the the junctions of major veins on their leaf undersides. The wood of Cherrybark Oak is strong, heavy, and hard; it is also relatively free from knots because of the self-pruning characteristic of this tree. As a result, the wood is highly regarded for its use in making furniture, cabinets, veneer, and interior finish. Many fungi form symbiotic relationships with the roots of oak trees (e.g., many mushrooms), promoting the health of these trees. Other fungi are parasitic on the wood, helping to return its nutrients to the ecological system. See the Fungus Table for a list of fungal species that associate with oak trees.