Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Quercus coccinea
SPECIES: Quercus coccinea
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Carey, Jennifer H. 1992. Quercus coccinea. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
Quercus richteri Baenitz
SCS PLANT CODE :
COMMON NAMES :
The currently accepted scientific name of scarlet oak is Quercus coccinea
Muenchh. (Fagaceae)[24,30]. Scarlet oak has been placed within the the
subgenus Erythrobalanus, or red (black) oak group . A rarely recognized
variety, Quercus coccinea var. tuberculata Sarg., is distinguished by
thickened tuberculate scales of the cup .
Scarlet oak hybridizes with the following species [24,30]:
x Q. ilicifolia (bear oak): Q. X robbinsii Trel.
x Q. velutina (black oak): Q. X fontana Laughlin
x Q. palustris (pin oak)
LIFE FORM :
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
In Maine's Official List of Endangered and Threatened Plants, scarlet
oak is listed under the administrative category, Special
Concern-Possibly Extirpated .
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Quercus coccinea
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
Scarlet oak is distributed from southwestern Maine west to New York,
Ohio, southern Michigan and Indiana; south to southern Illinois,
southeastern Missouri, and central Mississippi; east to southern Alabama
and southwestern Georgia; and north along the western edge of the
Atlantic Coastal Plain to the Virginia Coast. Scarlet oak is abundant
in the Piedmont and in the Appalachian Mountains [24,30].
FRES10 White - red - jack pine
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
AL CT DE GA IL IN KY ME MD MA
MI MS MO NH NJ NY NC OH PA RI
SC TN VA VT WV
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
K095 Great Lakes pine forest
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K104 Appalachian oak forest
K110 Northeastern oak - pine forest
K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest
SAF COVER TYPES :
14 Northern pin oak
40 Post oak - blackjack oak
43 Bear oak
44 Chestnut oak
45 Pitch pine
51 White pine - chestnut oak
52 White oak - black oak - northern red oak
53 White oak
75 Shortleaf pine
76 Shortleaf pine - oak
78 Virginia pine - oak
79 Virginia pine
82 Loblolly pine - hardwood
110 Black oak
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES :
Scarlet oak is a common component of many eastern and central dry upland
forests. Nearly pure stands of scarlet oak grow in areas of the Ozark
Plateau in Missouri . A chestnut oak (Quercus prinus)-scarlet oak
variant of the chestnut oak SAF cover type is found on upper slopes and
ridges in the central Appalachians. Scarlet oak is also prominent in
several variants of the white oak (Q. alba)-black oak (Q.
velutina)-northern red oak (Q. rubra) SAF cover type .
At middle and lower elevations in the Appalachian Mountains, scarlet oak
is often a major component of pine (Pinus spp.) forests and pine heaths
. Scarlet oak constitutes an important component of the subcanopy
and canopy layers of Table Mountain pine (Pinus pungens) forest .
The following published classifications list scarlet oak as a codominant
Vegetation of the Great Smoky Mountains 
Old growth forests within the Piedmont of South Carolina 
SPECIES: Quercus coccinea
WOOD PRODUCTS VALUE :
Although scarlet oak wood is of inferior grade, it is cut and utilized
with other red oaks as red oak lumber .
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE :
Scarlet oak acorns are an important food source for numerous upland
wildlife species including squirrels, chipmunks, mice, wild turkeys,
white-tailed deer, blue jays, and woodpeckers . White-tailed deer
occasionally browse young oak sprouts. The deer only take the top few
inches of the sprout unless it is extremely succulent or other food is
Small mammals and birds use scarlet oak for nesting sites, both in the
canopy and in cavities [2,56].
The sprouts of scarlet oak are more palatable to white-tailed deer than
the sprouts of bear oak .
NUTRITIONAL VALUE :
Scarlet oak acorns are on average 14.6 percent crude fat, 35.6 percent
total carbohydrates, 4.2 percent total protein, 0.18 percent calcium,
0.07 percent phosphorus, and 0.07 percent magnesium .
COVER VALUE :
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES :
OTHER USES AND VALUES :
Scarlet oak is widely planted in the United States and Europe as a shade
tree and ornamental. It has brilliant red foliage in autumn .
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Forest managers have noticed a decrease in upland oak frequency in newly
regenerated stands after clearcutting, especially on good sites. The
reason for the decrease is the inability of oak seedlings to compete
successfully with late successional, fast-growing species that have
invaded the oak forest understory in the absence of fire .
Oak seedlings that are occasionally top-killed will sprout from the
stump. These sprouts, known as advance regeneration, have
well-developed root systems. They grow faster than true seedlings and
are better able to compete successfully. To regenerate upland oaks
successfully, advance regeneration must be 4 to 5 feet (1.2-1.5 m) tall
before the overstory is removed. Regeneration of a mixed oak forest
after clearcutting can be successful only if there are adequate numbers
of older advance regeneration or saplings . Sanders  recommends
there be at least 433 well-distributed oak sprouts and saplings per acre
(1,070/ha). Otherwise, a shelterwood silviculture system is needed to
give oak regeneration time and partial light to grow [24,51,59]. For
best results, the shelterwood cut should leave a 60 to 70 percent
stocking density. All nonoak stems in the understory larger than 4 to 6
feet (1.2-1.8 m) tall should be killed .
The season of clearcutting appears to have an effect on the regeneration
of upland oaks stands. On medium quality sites in south-central Ohio,
upland oaks (chestnut, scarlet, black and white) were more favored over
mixed hardwoods after summer clearcutting than after winter
clearcutting. The season of harvest (dormant season versus growing
season) did not affect regeneration on good sites .
Site quality affects the ability of upland oaks to regenerate. In the
above study in south-central Ohio, medium quality sites had higher
absolute and relative oak densities 18 to 20 years after clearcutting
than did good sites. The oaks showed good early establishment on both
medium and good sites but were later unable to compete with the faster
growing, mesic hardwoods on good sites .
Information on storage, seeding, and planting techniques for upland oaks
is detailed . A method for increasing the growth rate of northern
red oak seedlings in nurseries has been developed and may be applicable
to scarlet oak .
Once scarlet oak stands are established, thinning increases the growth
rate of remaining trees. Thirty-two-year-old scarlet oaks showed 12
years of increased differential diameter growth beginning 6 to 7 years
after thinning. The reason for the delayed response is unknown .
Information on thinning, stocking, growth and yields of upland oaks is
detailed . Thinning upland oak stands to retain the best acorn
producers for wildlife habitat enhancement did not improve acorn yields
enough to justify the efforts .
Scarlet oak is susceptible to a number of insects and diseases. Gypsy
moth (Lymantria dispar), an introduced species, defoliates scarlet oak,
and successive defoliations can kill a tree. Other insects that
defoliate scarlet oak include oak leaftier (Croesia semipurpurana), fall
cankerworm (Alsophila pometaria), forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma
disstria), and walkingstick (Diapheromera femorata). Insects that bore
into the trunk include twolined chestnut borer (Agrilus bilineatus), red
oak borer (Enaphalodes rufulus), oak timberworm (Arrhenodes minutus),
Ambrosia beetles (Platypus spp. and Xyleborus spp.), and the larvae of
carpenterworms (Prionoxystus spp.). Egg-laying activity of the gouty
oak gall wasp (Callirhytis quercuepuntata) results in galls on smaller
twigs and limbs, and the oak-apple gall wasp (Amphibolips confluenta)
causes gall growth on leaves and petioles. Black carpenter ants
(Camponotus pennsylvanicus) sometimes nest in standing trees .
Scarlet oak is susceptible to oak wilt caused by the fungus Cerotocystis
fagacearum, and infected trees may die within 1 month. Cankers are
caused by Nectria spp. and Strummella coryneoidea. Fungi, such as
Stereum gausapatum, cause heart rot and enter the bole through branch
stubs and fire wounds. Scarlet oak does not self-prune well, and old
branch stubs facilitate fungi entry . Pruning a scarlet oak stand
results in better timber quality . Sprouts are susceptible to heart
rot; sprouts from large diameter stumps are more susceptible than those
from small diameter stumps .
Scarlet oaks that are stressed from drought, gypsy moth defoliation,
spring frost defoliation, old age, fire, poor site conditions, or other
factors often succumb to secondary agents such as twolined chestnut
borer and shoestring root rot (Armillaria mellea). This scenario, in
which a primary agent stresses the tree and a secondary agent kills it,
is known as "oak decline" and is responsible for considerable scarlet
oak mortality. For instance, from 1968 to 1972, 27 percent of scarlet
oak in the Newark Watershed in New Jersey died from gypsy moth
defoliation followed by twolined chestnut borer and shoestring root rot
attack . Based on site factors, a general stand classification of
mortality risk from oak decline has been developed .
Herbicides have been used to control scarlet oak on sites where pine
regeneration is desired. In order to convert a North Carolina
Appalachian site to white pine (Pinus strobus), picloram was applied in
May as 10 percent acid equivalent pellets at the rate of 4.5 pounds acid
equivalent per acre (5.0 kg ae/ha). One year later, 19 percent of the
scarlet oaks showed complete crown kill or defoliation; 72 percent showed
leaf curling, crown biomass reduction, and/or chlorosis; and 9 percent
exhibited no effect from the herbicide treatment .
In Georgia, three herbicides were tested on scarlet oak. Each tree
received one incision for every 3 inches (7.6 cm) in d.b.h.; each
incision was injected with 0.06 ounces (2 ml) of herbicide. One year
after injection, scarlet oaks injected with Arsenal at two different
concentrations (1 and 2 pounds AC 252,925 per gallon [120 and 240 g/l])
had 100 percent top-kill and no sprouting. Garlon 3A (1.5 pounds
triclopyr per gallon [180 g/l]) resulted in 50 percent top-kill.
Scarlet oak injected with 3,6-dichloropicolinic acid at two
concentrations (1.5 and 3 pounds XRM-3972 per gallon [180 and 360 g/l])
resulted in 0 percent and 20 percent top-kill, respectively .
When managing forests for cavity-nesting species, scarlet oak should be
selected over hickories (Carya spp.) and white oak because of its high
number of cavities. In southeastern Missouri, 21.2 percent of scarlet
oaks had cavities. The average d.b.h. of cavity trees was 12.2 inches
(31.0 cm) with bigger trees having larger cavities . In the Great
Smoky Mountains National Park, dead standing scarlet oak decays at a
rate of 5.7 percent per year .
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Quercus coccinea
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS :
Scarlet oak is a medium-sized, monoecious, native, deciduous tree with
an open, rounded crown [24,43]. At maturity, scarlet oak is usually 60
to 80 feet (18-24 m) tall and 24 to 36 inches (61-91 cm) in d.b.h., but
it can reach a maximum size of 100 feet (30 m) in height and 48 inches
(122 cm) in d.b.h. on good sites. Seedlings have a strong taproot and
relatively few lateral roots. Scarlet oak is one of the fastest growing
upland oak species  and is short-lived .
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :
REGENERATION PROCESSES :
Sexual: Seed production begins when the tree is about 20 years old,
with maximum production occurring after 50 years of age. Seed
production is irregular and unpredictable, but good crops generally
occur every 3 to 5 years . Seeds are disseminated by animals and
Germination is hypogeal. A light covering of forest litter is ideal for
germination . In oak-pine forests in the New Jersey Pine Barrens,
scarlet oak seedlings occurred more frequently in areas with moss-lichen
cover and shallow litter layers than in areas with deep litter. The
mean litter depth of 1-year-old seedlings was 0.9 inch (2.2 cm) . In
another study, the density of scarlet oak seedlings was negatively
correlated with deep litter coverage on some sites. However, this
negative correlation may be related to light availability because more
litter accumulated near shrubs .
A moderately open overstory canopy provides a favorable environment for
germination . In the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, scarlet oak
seedlings occurred on sites with a higher percent (37.6) of full sun
than did chestnut oak or white oak. In addition, scarlet oak seedlings
occurred on sites with less competition, determined by distance to
closest neighbor in the ground layer. However, because acorns have
large energy reserves, 1-year-old seedlings may not be highly site
Vegetative: If top-killed, scarlet oak sprouts from dormant buds at or
above the root crown. Nearly 100 percent of stumps smaller than 4
inches (10 cm) in d.b.h. sprout, and about 18 percent of trees 24 inches
(61 cm) in d.b.h. sprout . In a study on the Virginia Piedmont, the
season of harvest did not affect the the sprouting frequency of scarlet
oak stumps .
Scarlet oak stumps initially produce large numbers of sprouts , but
over time, sprout clumps tend towards the survival of one or two stems.
In one study, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 35 years after cutting, the average
number of sprouts per stump was 9.0, 4.6, 2.7, 1.9, 1.5, and 1.3,
respectively . Between the ages 4 and 8, stem-to-stem competition
within a scarlet oak clump is a more dominating interaction than
competition between clumps .
Scarlet oak sprouts grow faster in the first 5 years than the sprouts of
most associated oak species, but height growth falls off rapidly after
20 years . The sprouts concentrate on stem growth during the first
and second growth flushes. A third flush does not show nearly as much
growth which may be because this species is adapted to xeric sites where
moisture stress limits growth later in the growing season .
Juveniles often die back and sprout numerous times, thus becoming
advance regeneration. Seedling sprouts grow faster than seedlings, with
the sprout growth rate dependent on the thickness of the stem .
SITE CHARACTERISTICS :
Scarlet oak, an upland xerophytic species, commonly occurs on ridges and
slopes in hilly to mountainous terrain. It occurs up to 5,000 feet
(1,520 m) in the southern Appalachian Mountains but is most common below
3,000 feet (910 m) . In the Smoky Mountains, scarlet oak is most
frequent in middle and lower slope positions centered around 2,500 feet
(760 m) in elevation . Scarlet oak will also grow in valley sites
on generally coarser soils than white oak .
Scarlet oak grows in a wide variety of soils, but especially in dry
sandy or gravelly soils [20,24]. It is most common on lower quality
sites . In 51 upland hardwood stands on the Virginia Piedmont,
scarlet oak was significantly associated with low soil clay content
(p<0.05), low soil calcium (p<0.01), low soil magnesium (p<0.05), and
low pH (p<0.05) .
Common small tree and shrub associates of scarlet oak not mentioned in
Distribution and Occurrence include sassafras (Sassafras albidum),
flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), redbud (Cercis canadensis), sourwood
(Oxydendrum arboreum), sumacs (Rhus spp.), hawthorns (Crataegus spp.),
eastern hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), greenbriers (Smilax spp.),
blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), and huckleberries (Gaylussacia spp.).
Mountain-laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is an associate on very dry sites
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS :
Scarlet oak is intolerant of shade . Seeds can germinate in the
shade, but seedlings do not exhibit long-term survival or growth under a
closed canopy . Scarlet oak is usually found in dominant and
codominant positions, since suppressed individuals eventually die .
Scarlet oak tends to be better represented in forests with a history of
disturbance such as fire, logging, grazing, or disease [24,38]. In a
study of long-term forest composition in North Carolina, scarlet oak
regeneration was low for over 30 years, suggesting population
recruitment of this species is episodic and probably dependent on
disturbance. In the absence of disturbance, codominant scarlet oak
declines in importance in mixed oak stands .
Scarlet oak may be climax on dry sites with adequate light because of
its drought tolerance . Little  suggests mixed oak forests of
black, white, chestnut, and scarlet oaks may represent a physiographic
climax association on upland sites in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT :
Scarlet oak flowers in April or May, depending on latitude, elevation,
and weather. Acorns mature in two growing seasons. They ripen and drop
in the fall and germinate in the spring .
SPECIES: Quercus coccinea
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS :
The fire resistance of scarlet oak is rated as low. It has thin bark,
and even low severity surface fires can result in severe basal damage
and high mortality. Top-killed scarlet oaks sprout vigorously from the
root crown after fire .
A thick litter covering is unfavorable for scarlet oak acorn germination
. Fire removes litter and may facilitate scarlet oak regeneration
. However, no study documenting increased scarlet oak regeneration
from seed after fire was found in the literature. The primary mode of
regeneration after fire appears to be sprouting.
The prevalent presettlement upland oak forests in the eastern and
central United States were associated with recurring fire. These
forests probably burned at an intermediate frequency (50 to 100 year
intervals), which promoted the dominance and stability of oak .
Oak-hickory forests are not usually conducive to high-severity fires,
but surface fires are easily ignited and spread rapidly under favorable
conditions . In the absence of fire or other disturbance, the
short-lived scarlet oak is replaced by later successional species.
Periodic fire opens the canopy and provides an opportunity for upland
oaks to regenerate and maintain dominance . Fifty-five years after a
late summer fire in south-central Connecticut, a burned area had higher
absolute and relative amounts of oak (scarlet, black, white, chestnut,
and northern red) than an adjacent unburned area .
In Missouri, nearly all trees were top-killed after a spring fire in a
23-year-old white oak-black oak-hickory stand in which 79 percent of the
stems larger than 0.6 inches (1.5 cm) in d.b.h. were oak and hickory.
Ten years later, 64 percent of the stems were oak and hickory,
indicating that a stand can replace itself. Scarlet oak increased from
a prefire density of 253 stems per acre (625 stems/ha) to a postfire
density of 329 stems per acre (813 stems/ha). Scarlet oak basal area
decreased from (2.7 m sq/ha) prefire to (0.6 m sq/ha) postfire.
However, scarlet oak maintained its position as the third most frequent
overstory species behind white oak and black oak. New stems were
primarily from basal sprouting .
Scarlet oak is restricted from the pine-scrub oak communities of the New
Jersey Pine Barrens because it does not produce viable seed at a young
enough age to become established in areas that burn every 8 to 12 years
[31,32]. In the Pine Barrens, scarlet oak is usually restricted to the
later successional forests along with white, black, and chestnut oaks
FIRE REGIMES :
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :
Tree with adventitious-bud root crown/root sucker
Secondary colonizer - off-site seed
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE :
SPECIES: Quercus coccinea
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT :
Small scarlet oak are easily top-killed by low-severity surface fires,
and larger scarlet oak may suffer severe basal damage . Scarlet oak
is less resistant to basal injury than black oak, white oak, or chestnut
oak. Scarlet oak is often severely wounded even when the area of
discolored bark is comparatively small. Fire wounds often extend far
beyond the region of bark discoloration .
Because bark thickens with age, the longer the fire interval, the
greater the chance a thin-barked species will develop bark thick enough
to protect it from a low-severity surface fire. Scarlet oak is reduced
in number by short-interval fires because of its thin bark and slow
Almost all scarlet oak in a 23-year-old mixed oak-hickory stand in
Missouri were top-killed by a spring fire .
Acorns cannot withstand the amount of heat usually generated in leaf
litter fires . Acorns buried in the soil by animals may survive,
although documentation of this possibility with respect to scarlet oak
was not found in the literature.
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT :
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE :
Scarlet oak individuals, including seedlings, sprout from the root crown
when top-killed. Individuals that survive fire often have basal fire
Fire-wounded scarlet oaks sometime suffer a reduction in the rate of
diameter growth. A severe fire in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest in
North Carolina resulted in larger reductions in growth than a
moderate-severity fire. While unwounded scarlet oaks grew on average of
0.20 inch per year (0.50 cm/yr) in diameter, scarlet oak with 1 to 25
percent, 25 to 50 percent, and more than 50 percent of the base wounded
grew 0.17 inch per year (0.43 cm/yr), 0.14 inch per year (0.36 cm/yr),
and 0.09 inch per year (0.23 cm/y), respectively .
The mortality of oak trees from fire is often delayed. Six months after
two surface fires of different severity in southern New York, living
butt-scorched trees (larger than 1 inch [2.5 cm] in d.b.h.) were tagged
for future study. In the less severely burned area, 23 percent of the
tagged scarlet oak were dead 1.5 years after the fire. Smaller diameter
trees, especially those less than 5 inches (12.7 cm), had the highest
mortality. In the other area that burned more severely because of a
dense understory of mountain-laurel, 100 percent of the tagged scarlet
oaks were dead 1.5 years after the fire. The authors concluded that at
least one postfire growing season must elapse before fire damage to oaks
can be accurately determined .
The density of scarlet oak stems generally increases after fire because
of sprouting. Two growing seasons after two annual fires in an oak-pine
stand in the Cumberland Plateau in Kentucky, scarlet oak and black oak
stems increased from a prefire density of approximately 1,250 stems per
acre (3,090 stems/ha) to a postfire density of approximately 1,750 stems
per acre (4,320 stems/ha) .
If high fire frequency is continued, however, scarlet oak density will
eventually decrease as rootstocks weaken and die. After 27 years of
annual burning in a Tennessee upland oak forest, both overstory and
understory stem densities of scarlet oak were considerably reduced .
The following Research Project Summaries
provide information on prescribed
fire use and postfire response of plant
community species, including scarlet
oak, that was not available when this
species review was originally
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Prescribed fire is often used to control hardwoods and promote
establishment of pine. In a study on the South Carolina Piedmont,
spring felling of leafed-out residual oaks (scarlet, chestnut, and
black) followed by summer burning produced greater reductions of
dominant sprout height and sprout clump crown diameters at the end of
the first postfire growing season than did winter felling followed by
summer broadcast burning. Spring felling was probably more effective
because carbohydrate root reserves are low after leaves emerge .
Because of the prolific sprouting of scarlet oak, prescribed burning
without additional use of herbicides or mechanical removal may not
adequately control this species. Prescribed burning is not recommended
for hardwood control, including scarlet oak, for shortleaf pine (Pinus
echinata) regeneration on the Cumberland Plateau in Kentucky .
Equations have been developed to estimate the fire-caused mortality of
scarlet oak. In order to predict mortality, a manager needs to know the
tree d.b.h., the height of bark blackening, the width of bark blackening
1 foot (0.3 m) above the ground, and the season of fire. The equation
should be applied to trees between 3 and 16 inches (7.6-40.6 cm) in
d.b.h. . Equations have also been developed to predict lumber value
losses due to fire wounding of scarlet oak . An equation has been
developed to predict the size of a fire wound on a scarlet oak from the
area of the exterior discolored bark and the diameter of the damaged
Scarlet oak is a preferred species for shelterbelts around farms and
houses to protect them from fire in open country. The row of trees
reduces wind velocity, filters out air borne debris, slows ground fires,
and readily regenerates after fire .
SPECIES: Quercus coccinea
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