Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Natural shape of the pin oak

Don't try to change the pin oak's shape by pruning.


The pin oak (Quercus palustris) has a characteristic shape. It has a long central trunk. Its upper branches always lift to the sky. Its middle branches extend more or less horizontally from the trunk. Its lowest branches always droop toward the ground.

The pin oak's shape is usually described as pyramidal or sometimes as conical. The unique angles of its branching and the presence of many pins --short stubs on the trunk -- are reliable clues to its identification.

A pin oak tree will do its best to maintain the characteristic shape of its species. If its lower branches are removed, the next branches that are lowest on the trunk will gradually begin drooping toward the ground.  For this reason, pin oaks are not very good for planting along narrow streets or in parking lots.

I hate to see a pin oak that's been deformed by excessive pruning in an effort to keep its lower branches from drooping into human zones. Here's an example of what I'm talking about -- a much abused pin oak that grows in a field of asphalt near the Bradford Square Mall in Hopkinsville, KY.

Why don't landscapers think about the size and shape and spread a tree will have in maturity when they plant it? Thinking ahead would be so much better than spending years fighting the natural tendencies of a tree. Just my opinion.

Photo of pin oak in winter provided by Robert Underwood.

2 comments -- please add yours:

Anonymous said...

I think pin oaks are beautiful as well in thier natural shape. Its a joy to watch those leaves shimmer in the wind!

Genevieve said...

I totally agree. :)

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

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Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

Photos and text copyright © 2006-2010 by Genevieve L. Netz. All rights reserved. Do not republish without written permission. My e-mail address is gnetz51@gmail.com