Plant Guide > Trees > Oaks > Pin Oak or Swamp Spanish Oak Tree

Pin Oak or Swamp Spanish Oak Tree

Pin Oak or Swamp Spanish Oak TreePin Oak, Swamp Spanish Oak (Quercus palustris, Linn.) -A graceful, pyramidal tree when young, becoming oblong and irregular, at length; 50 to 120 feet high; branches horizontal, short. Bark grey-brown, shining, smooth, becoming scaly on trunk; twigs red, tomentose. Wood hard, tough, strong, heavy, coarse grained, light brown, variegated. Buds small, acute, brown. Leaves alternate, 4 to 6 inches long, deeply 5 to 7-lobed with wide sinuses almost to the midrib, shining above, dull and pale beneath, scarlet in autumn. Flowers in May, with halfgrown leaves; staminate, in hairy catkins, 2 to 3 inches long; pistillate on short hairy peduncles, with bright red stigmas. Acorns ripe in autumn of second year, 1/3 to 1/2 inch long, pale brown, streaked, broader than long and set in a shallow saucer-like cup, of close, reddish scales, which is lined with hair; kernel white, bitter. Preferred habitat, low, moist soil. Distribution, Massachusetts to Delaware; west to Wisconsin and Arkansas. Uses: Handsome rapid-growing tree for avenues or lawns. It has fibrous roots and so transplants easily. Wood used in construction, cooperage, for interior finish of houses, and for shingles and clapboards.

The tourist who visits Washington and takes the trolley rides recommended by the guide book must have noted the superb avenues of native trees that give character and dignity to the whole city. For long stretches a single species holds uninterrupted sway, and the distinctive traits of the various kinds are thus impressed upon the observer, even as he flies by them on the car. I remember the beautiful pin oaks on the way from the capitol to the navy yard. Only a few years ago they were little striplings from the nurseries. Now they are goodly shade trees, and the beauty of youth is still upon them. Each tree is a glistening pyramid of leaves, that dance as the breeze plays among them; for the leaf stems and the twigs are slender and flexible, and the blades, catching the wind, keep the treetop in a continual flutter.

The leaves are deeply cut into five or seven spiny-toothed blades that point forward. The leaves of scarlet oak, cut with about the same "waste of cloth," point outward and have more rounded sinuses than those of the pin oak.

The leaf might confuse us, but the pin-oak tree tells its name before one is near enough to see the leaf distinctly. The tree has a broad pyramidal form, with slender branches stretched out horizontally as far as they can reach. The spur-like little twigs that cluster on the branches throughout the treetop are choked to death by being crowded, but they remain, the "pins" that characterise this species of oak. When it gets old the pin oak loses some of its symmetry and beauty. It holds onto its dead branches, but there is a dignity in its bearing that is admirable, even in its decline.

The village of Flushing, Long Island, has proved through many years that the pin oak is an admirable street and shade tree. It is as easily transplanted as a box elder, so there is scarcely an excuse for not planting it. The flush on its opening leaves, the red flame that lights the tree in the autumn, and the dainty striped acorns in their scaly saucers-all combine to make an ornamental tree with scarcely a fault to set off its many horticultural virtues. The Europeans have cherished this tree for over a century. We Americans are just discovering it, and should make up for lost time.