Texas Tree Tips: August 2014
By Steve Houser
Tree Species Profiles — Top Rated Shade Trees
Shumard Red Oak, Quercus shumardii
The typical Shumard red oak, Quercus shumardii, is an excellent tree that is well worth considering for any landscape setting that has the right soil conditions and room for a large-growing shade tree. The best term to describe the overall look of the tree would be “stately,” with an air of distinction due to its size and stunning fall color (when the Texas weather allows).
The Shumard red oak is a moderately fast growing tree that can attain heights of over 100 feet with broad crown spreads reaching 70 feet or more. The trees typically have a single trunk with well-spaced limbs that greatly please the hearts of tree climbers. Some tree species contain a thick mass of limbs for a tree climber to navigate, which can present many challenges and frustrations. Certain species can be climber-friendly or downright mean-spirited — especially those with thorns! For example, Shumard red oak welcomes a climber and often offers an excellent swing from limb to limb. But a thorny honey locust, Gleditsia triacanthos, can be full of weapon-grade spurs that can expand a climber’s vocabulary of flowery expletives!
The fall color of Shumard red oaks can vary from red to yellow or just brown, depending on the weather and other factors. Fall color is also dependent on the genetics of the individual tree. Shumard red oak has a propensity to cross-pollinate with other trees in the Black Oak Group such as Texas red oak, Quercus texana buckleyi, which is native to North and Central Texas. Shumard red oak is native to the eastern third of Texas, except in the far south. The late Benny Simpson noted in a Field Guide to Texas Trees, “One of the puzzling oak complexes in Texas is the Shumard Red Oak–Texas Red Oak–Chisos Red Oak group. There is no doubt that they are extremely closely related, and much confusion exists in herbaria and in the field as to the correct identity of these oaks. Along the line from Dallas to Austin will be a great hybrid swarm of Q. shumardii x Q. texana. Pure Shumard Red Oak probably does not exist on the Edwards Plateau. Pure stands of Shumard Red Oak occur to the east of the hybrid swarm and Texas Red Oak occurs to the west.”
Cross-pollinated trees can express some of the characteristics of both parents, making a positive species identification difficult. Although Shumard red oak transplants well, be sure you specify to your nurseryman that the red oak you buy must be a PURE Shumard red oak — not a cross-pollinated version. Anything less than a 100-percent Shumard red oak will not meet your expectations.
Shumard red oaks can live up to 200 years. They prefer the moist soils along creeks, rivers, and bodies of water. They are moderate in drought tolerance, with the Texas red oak out-rating the Shumard in this category. Both closely related oaks are susceptible to the deadly Oak Wilt disease, which is a big drawback in areas of confirmed infection.
Shumard red oak acorns, like those of other oaks in the Black Oak Group, take two years to mature and are a favorite for deer, turkeys, and other wildlife, including our much-beloved squirrels. You may hate squirrels, but let’s see you run up a thorny tree and then leap into a nearby tree without a care in the world. It’s hard to find a better tree climber. Maybe I should add a few more acorns to my diet?