Get to Know a Bur Oak

Fun Facts about the Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

  • The bur oak is a species of oak in the white oak family and native to eastern and central North America and central Canada.

  • Bur oaks can live up to 300 years, which means that many of the oldest bur oaks in the United States were here before the country was founded.

  • The particular oak species grows quite slowly. At full maturity, the bur oak can reach 100 feet tall with a trunk diameter of up to 10 feet.

  • Members of the white oak family are known to hybridize, so you can sometimes find a tree with some leaves resembling a bur oak and some a swamp white oak.

  • Bur oak acorns are very large and have a large cup with a fringe at the edge, which gives them the name “bur” oak.

  • Bur oaks have evolved to be fire-tolerant and thrive in habitats which have frequent landscape fires. Bur oaks will be found in savannas, edges of prairies, and oak woodlands. The bur oak has thick bark which can withstand fire, while other trees with thin bark will be killed by a hot fire. This allows the bur oaks to get the sunlight they need to thrive.

  • Healthy bur oaks will dominate a landscape with large branches stretching up, out, and to the ground. It is an impressive tree with a massive corky trunk and easy to spot in a healthy woodland or savanna.

  • Oak expert Guy Sternberg claims that it is on the Great Plains where bur oak is most appreciated, “where it stands resolute for centuries against the elements that devour all lesser trees.”

Photo courtesy the Arbor Day Foundation.