Oak is one of the most majestic trees, prized around the world for its towering elegance and sturdy timber. In Britain especially, the oak tree is loved. Standing tall and resplendent across the country, its ubiquity has meant the oak tree is one of the most easily recognised trees. But how many types of oak are there?
We have spent over three decades crafting structures out of beautiful oak timbers and collecting a host of oak expertise along the way. Here, we take a deep dive into oak, answering how many different kinds of oak trees there are, the types of oak wood they produce, and how and why oak is used in construction.
Types of Oak Trees
The oak tree, of the genus Quercus, is native to the Northern Hemisphere. You’ll find the largest amount of species in the United States, including the bur oak and the pin oak, closely followed by China. The vast majority of oak trees are deciduous, meaning their leaves shed and change colouring depending on the season.
Different species of oak trees have different characteristics – but just how many types of oak trees are there?
How Many Different Kinds of Oak Trees Are There?
If you include hybridised oak trees, there are nearly 600 types of oak tree varieties in the world. Only two species, however, are native to Great Britain, and only around a further three non-native oaks can be found widely across the British Isles.
The native species are the Quercus robur and Quercus petraea, more commonly known as the English Oak and Sessile Oak. The Turkey, Holm, and Cork oaks are the other widespread oak trees in Britain. All types of oak trees that you’ll find here produce acorns.
British Oak Trees and How to Identify Them
The English oak, also called the pedunculate oak or common oak, is the most dominant oak in Britain. The pedunculate name comes from the fact that this oak has acorns with stalks, known to botanists as ‘peduncles’.
Leaf: The leaf of an English oak has two smaller leaves referred to as ‘ears’ at its base that hide a very short stalk. Its classic shape is probably the most recognisable leaf out of all oak trees, with its distinctive wavy edging. These outward curves are called lobes.
Acorn: The acorn of an English oak has an elongated stalk, the peduncle.
You’ll find the Sessile oak gracing woodlands on well-drained hillsides, often in the North and West of the country.
Leaf: Sessile oak leaves are very similar in shape to English oaks, but have longer stalks. The lobes on the leaf are also not as pronounced as they are on the English oak leaf.
Acorn: Acorns from Sessile oaks have no stalk, sitting directly on the shoot.
The Tukey oak was introduced to Britain from Turkey in the early 1700s as it was believed to be a rapid-growing source of timber. The wood actually turned out to be far too brittle for construction purposes, but the growth of the tree spread across the country anyway.
Leaf: The leaf on a Turkey oak is long in shape and has sharper, more deeply cut lobes.
Acorn: Turkey oak acorns are distinguishable from other acorns with cups that are distinctly whiskered.
Holm oaks came to Britain in the 1500s from Southern Europe and are now a common fixture in parks and gardens. They are evergreen, meaning they don’t shed their leaves seasonally.
Leaf: Holm oak leaves can vary in shape. Some leaves look like holly leaves which is where the oak got its name: ‘holm’ is an old word for ‘holly’.
Acorn: Holm oak acorns rest in cups that look as though they are covered in soft felt.
Cork oaks are native to Southern Europe and North-West Africa. In these native lands, the tree is cultivated for its special bark which is a renewable source of cork. The tree made its way over to Britain around 1690 and is another example of the generally rarer evergreen oak.
Leaf: The cork oak leaf has very small lobes that come to tiny, sharp-looking points.
Acorn: A cork acorn is small and looks bumpy on the outside, as opposed to the smooth green look of most other acorns.
How Long do Oak Trees Live?
Oaks are known for having long lifespans, allowing them to grow tall and wide and evoke grandeur like few other trees. While they generally mature at around 75 years and go on to live for an average of 150-250 years, oak trees have been known to live up to 1,000 years old. Some famous sites even boast ancient oaks that are thought to be 2,000 years old.
Their commonality on this island for over 12,000 years means they’ve earned a significant place in history and culture. Druids, as one example, enacted their pagan rites in oak groves long ago. Acorns have also long been a lucky charm for many. With its longevity and popularity, it’s no surprise there are so many interesting oak tree facts out there.
The practical capabilities of oak are remarkable as well. Read on to find out how significant oak is in the construction world.
How Tall Can Oak Trees Grow?
An oak tree grows at a rate of around half a metre per year. With a thick, short trunk, the branches grow to a grandiose crown that can reach up to 35 metres high. This impressive stature is part of what makes oak trees so majestic and imposing.
The Oak Tree in Construction
Oak in the British isles has been a mainstay of construction, contributing to countless builds throughout history. Oak was invaluable for historic shipbuilding before iron took over in more recent centuries. Naval shipyards of yore even necessitated whole forests of oak trees to be cultivated purely for shipbuilding purposes.
Oak is such a fantastic material for construction because of its high density, resulting in exceptional strength and hardiness. They are also very resistant to fungi and insect attacks as well as being naturally weather-proof. All of this combines to make oak the best timber for architectural load bearing beams, flooring, and garden buildings. Not only this, but oak timber boasts a timeless aesthetic of classic beauty that it’s difficult to achieve with other materials.
Types of Oak Wood
The timber that oak produces is extremely hardwearing and great for construction. There are a few different types of oak timber used in building and construction, but the main ones are:
Oak furniture is often made of red oak and white oak because of their attractive grain. These oaks make for beautiful furniture finishes because of their resistance to scratches and stains, being dense and durable. In hue, white oak actually leans towards the greyish-brown and is fine in texture.
Red oak is similar in shade but has a reddish-brown tinge that gives it its name. It holds the same durable building capabilities as white oak but has a coarser grain.
Green oak gets its name not from its colour but from its age. Typically, green oak used in construction is freshly felled within the previous 18 months. This gives it a higher moisture content which can move and split as it dries, so it’s integral to get green oak from expert timber constructionists.
The benefits of green oak are many. The higher moisture content means the timber is easier to work, so the joint shaping and timber cutting can be executed with utmost precision. Precision like this is essential for building the frames that are used for garden buildings and oak framed garages, structures that are gaining a resurgence in popularity at the moment.
Quality Oak is Essential When it Comes to Construction and Carpentry
If you’re ever buying oak furniture, or looking for an oak building, it’s essential that you buy from a company that knows what they’re doing. Oak should be sourced from sustainable sites that plant more oak saplings whenever one is felled for construction purposes, like the dedicated sites in France that we use.
We use green oak in our construction because of its ability to create precise frames that can then be easily assembled to make beautiful, strong oak buildings. Not only this, but we provide oak aftercare packages that allow our clients to keep the stunning finish of their oak building long after purchase. If you’re looking to emulate the majesty of the oak tree in a stunning building on your property, an oak framed structure is the way to go.