I have a Pin Oak in my yard…

     uh…no, you don’t. We get requests for Pin Oaks all the time. We don’t grow them and I have never seen any available, from any grower that we buy trees from.  It doesn’t matter that the previous home owner said so, your Master Gardener friend said so…or even that you live on Pin Oak drive, street, road, lane, court, trail, bend, creek, estates, glen, loop, park, place or ridge. Quercus palustris does NOT grow here. Far too often the name Pin Oak is mistakenly tossed about. I can only assume  this, defamation of Southern Red Oaks, was started when (well-intentioned) northerners moved to the south. They saw a tree that looked familiar and started calling it Pin Oak. Other people just assumed they were correct (some people will believe anything). This will show the similarities and the differences between the two trees. For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to Southern Red Oaks (which include Texas, Shumard and Nuttall) as just Red Oaks.

Similarities

    There are similarities, but past these, they are very different trees.

  1. Both are members of the Red Oak family.
  2. Both are great shade trees (typical of Red Oaks).
  3. Both grow to about 75 feet tall (typical of most Red Oaks).
  4. Both grow in full sun (typical of Red Oaks).
  5. Both grow in acidic soil (typical of Red Oaks).
  6. Both have acorns that take 2 years or more to mature (typical of all Red Oaks).
  7. Both have sharply lobed leaves with pointy tips (typical of Red Oaks). 

Differences

     Form

Pin Oaks have a distinctive branching habit. The lower branches point to the ground, the middle branches point straight out and the upper branches point up to the sky. Pin Oak grows with a very pyramidal form. Only at an advanced age does Pin Oak develop an oval shape and lose its bottom branches.

Red Oaks have upright branches that spread out, forming a rounded crown. At a young age, Red Oaks lose their bottom branches.

      Trunks

Pin Oaks have a relatively smooth, grayish-brown bark with shallow ridges and fissures. When the lower branches break away, a distinctive nub is left. This causes the tree to look like it has “pins” sticking out of it…hence the name “Pin” Oak.

Red Oaks have a gray to reddish-brown bark with small, tight interlacing ridges and deep fissures. When a branch breaks off, no “nubs” are left.

      Leaves

Pin Oak leaves are 3 to 6 inches long, are narrow with 5 to 7 pointy lobes, bright green and shiny.

Red Oak leaves are 5 to 8 inches long, are wide with 7 to 9 pointy lobes, dark green with a satin finish.

        Acorns

Pin Oak acorns are smaller and rounded.

Red Oak acorns are larger and oval. 

  …and for the biggest difference of all Pin Oaks grow from northeastern  Oklahoma to eastern Kansas, through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and parts of Arkansas, Missouri, Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Northern Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. There are also sporadic pockets of Pin Oaks in New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut and  Massachusetts. You are far more likely to find a Red Oak in some of these states than a Pin Oak in Texas.

Mantra of the week

     “There are NO Pin Oaks in South Texas, it is a myth, a misnomer and an ugly, slanderous reference to our beloved Southern Red Oaks.” Repeat 3 times a day until you no longer say “That’s a Pin Oak”. If someone can show me a true Pin Oak in South Texas, I will eat a leaf.