Quercus velutina (Black Oak)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Fagaceae (Beech)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:sun; droughty soil; open woods, savanna
Bloom season:May
Plant height:to 88 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct

Male and female flowers are borne on the same branch, the male flowers on 2 to 4 inch, green, string-like clusters (called catkins) from bud clusters at the tip of the previous season's growth. 1 to 5 female flowers, with reddish styles and a short, stubby, green stalk, sit in the leaf axils of new growth.

Leaves and bark: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: lobed

[photo of leaves] Leaves are simple and alternate, the blades highly variable, often nearly as wide as long (oval in outline), 3½ to 6½ inches long and 3 to 6¼ inches wide, typically with 5 (or 7) primary lobes. For leaves with very deep sinuses, the primary lobes can have three or more secondary lobes, all lobes sharply pointed. Leaves with shallow sinuses tend to have more blocky angles. Mature leaves are dark green and shiny on the upper surface, the lower surface paler with loose, scruffy hairs across the surface and tufts of hairs in the vein axils.

[photo of trunk] The trunk can be over 2 feet in diameter at breast height (dbh). In closed canopy forests it is tall and straight with a high canopy of branches. In more open areas, the crown is rounder and closer to the ground. The bark is gray to nearly black in mature trees, medium to coarse textured with blocky, vertical ridges deeply furrowed between. Twigs are reddish-brown or greenish-gray, smooth and stout, though new growth can have fine hairs.

Fruit: Fruit type: nut

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a nearly round nut (acorn) ½ to ¾ inch long, set in a deep cup covering 50-75% of its length, with flat plate-like scales, loosely fringed at the tips and dense fine hairs lining the inner surface


Black oak is an eastern/southern species that barely ranges into Minnesota's SE border counties. Extremely drought tolerant, it persists in our driftless region on droughty slopes and ridges where other tree species cannot compete well. It's highly shade intolerant and in moister locations it is a successional species dependent on fire for regeneration. It may be very difficult to distinguish from Northern Pin Oak (Quercus ellipsoidalis) without mature acorns. Black Oak has fine, dense hairs on the inner surface of the cap, and the outer scales of the cap are loose at the tips, often fold back around the rim. Black Oak also has short fine hairs on the leaf underside that easily rub off. Like with most of the oaks, hybridization can occur with similar oak species.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area, Winona County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Sue L
on: 2016-11-07 11:47:05

NH Winchell of the Minnesota Geological Survey came upon large black oaks in Winona County and thought they were members of a "former forest growth, most of which had been cut or destroyed by fire." this was in mid-1870s. Any thoughts on this former forest? I hadn't heard of it.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2016-11-07 12:41:12

We don't know of this, Sue. The DNR Natural Heritage program may know more about the history of forests in Winona County.

Posted by: Craig - Vermillion TWP
on: 2018-01-05 20:17:07

Found in land survey notes from 1853-55 that black oak was commonly found throughout Vermillion TWP, MN. (Often mixed with xeric prairie, bur oak, and rarely white oak)

Posted by: Al Stevens - Wabasha County
on: 2021-12-01 14:06:21

The forester I hired to write a forest management plan for my property near Hammond/Millville found mature black oak on several of the west facing slopes. He aged some of the black oak and estimated they were up to 140 years old.

Posted by: Matt Kavanaugh - Plymouth
on: 2022-06-09 16:31:28

I believe I have identified this species growing wild in Hennepin County, at least in a couple locations in Plymouth. One was growing in an open front yard in an older, forested part of town, and the other was located on a ridge above a nearby pond. Both appeared to be about 60 or so years old. Sure enough, the plant ID app on my phone identified both as Black Oaks, even after multiple up close snapshots were taken. This is not 100% reliable, but this app has correctly identified oaks in my yard and across the area. I use this app, called PictureThis, frequently as I walk around the area, and have scanned oak trees often. Not once until yesterday had I ever identified a Black Oak around here. I am aware of the tendency for oaks in the Red Oak group to hybridize, so perhaps the trees I found are variations of either pin or red oaks. Hennepin County is a bit northwest of the typical range of black oak, however, is it possible that it might grow naturally here, at least in small numbers?

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