American red oak is the dominant species in the U.S. hardwood forests – with distinctive grain, and wood that is not always red in color. The name is supposedly due to the leaf color in the fall. Red oak may be sold on the basis of ‘northern’, ‘southern’ and ‘Appalachian’ but this may be an over-simplification of the differences according to growing location. For example, red oak grown at higher altitude will tend to be slower grown with a denser grain appearance and texture, regardless of geographical location.
Red oak trees grow only naturally and almost exclusively in North America, although planted elsewhere. They are widely distributed throughout most of the eastern United States in mixed hardwood forests. The trees are very tall. There are many sub-species, all within the red oak classification, which grow from north to south; some high in the mountains and others on low land giving rise to different characteristics. Thus there are significant variations in red oaks depending on location, in particular between the slower grown northern and faster grown southern trees. Red oaks are regarded as highly sustainable for both domestic and export consumption and, being the largest species group, are more abundant than the white oaks.
In general, the sapwood of red oaks is light brown and the heartwood is often, but not always, pinkish to reddish brown. The color difference between the sapwood and heart wood is quite distinct. The wood of red oaks is generally straight-grained and coarse textured. The wood is figured with medullary rays – a feature of all true (Quercus) oaks – smaller in red oak than white oak. The wood is porous, and easily identified from the end grain, so not suitable for wine barrels.
This sustainably managed species group from natural forests of North America, with excellent environmental credentials, is a key species in many export markets. Its main uses are in furniture, flooring, doors, architectural joinery and moldings and kitchen cabinets. It is also used in certain applications for construction.