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Two confusing oaks

Without fresh leaves on trees, in winter it’s fun to try identification of the dry leaves as we scuffle through them on paths in wooded areas. In any season, oaks can be tricky since they hybridize and leaf shapes are plastic, dependent upon environmental conditions. So the goal is to find individual leaves that most closely match the ideal pattern for that species.

Two species we see often in the red oak group are Quercus falcata Southern Red Oak or Spanish Oak and Quercus pagoda Cherrybark Oak. Their characters are very similar and their acorns are identical. But with some practice, i.e., looking at a lot of leaves, the two can be distinguished.

Q. falcata has a long central lobe, 2-3 pairs of sickle-shaped (“falcata”) lobes and usually a rounded base. The underleaf hairs are rusty-colored.

Q. pagoda can have a longish central lobe but the whole leaf is wider, the base is broadly wedge-shaped and the hairs on the underleaf are grey, not rusty. The lobes are not sickle-shape...

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