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10 Types of Oak Trees In California (with Pictures)

Bur oak tree

California has a unique environment that has attracted millions of people over the decades. It has a warm Mediterranean climate not found anywhere else in the United States. The northern regions are filled with thick humid forests while the southern half of the state is hilly and arid. California is home to some of the most fertile land in the United States.

The various climates have produced conditions that have been ripe for unique oak species to develop and thrive. Oaks are some of the most common species of trees found throughout the United States. Each of these trees has adapted to California’s individual environment. These are ten unique types of oak trees that are native to California.

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The 10 Common Types of Oak Trees in California

1. Blue Oak

Blue Oak Tree
Image Credit: Bachy, Pixabay
Scientific name: Quercus douglasii
Height: 20 – 60 feet
Longevity: 175 – 400 years

Blue oaks are hardy trees that live in open arid areas of southern California. They are largely found at elevations ranging from 500 to 2000 feet on the low hillsides that dominate southern California. These trees can live for an extremely long time with some examples being over 400 years old. The tallest of these trees can reach heights approaching 100 feet and they are often called mountain oaks by the locals. Blue oaks are one of the most common oaks native to California and are prized in gardens for their ease of care and appearance.

2. Coast Live Oak

Coast Live Oak
Image Credit: Greyerbaby, Pixabay
Scientific name: Quercus agrifolia Nee
Height: 20 – 40 feet
Longevity: 125 – 250 years

Coast live oaks are squat trees with extremely thick bark that propagate in the dry valleys of coastal California. Unlike other oak trees, the coast live oak is extremely fire resistant. The thickness of the bark protects the tree even during extremely hot fires. Other trees’ bark chars and flakes off during fires exposing the sensitive innards of the tree. Coast live oaks can live up to 250 years in ideal conditions. Coast live oaks are also unique in that they are evergreen oaks meaning they are green year-round.

3. Canyon Live Oak

Canyon Live Oak_Yhelfman_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Yhelfman, Shutterstock
Scientific name: Quercus chrysolepis Liebm
Height: 60 – 80 feet
Longevity: 100 – 300 years

The canyon oak is the most widely distributed species of the oak tree in California. The canyon oak is well adapted to California’s elevated geography. Some of these trees have been found at elevations as high as 9000 feet or more. These trees use strong roots to cling to the side of steep canyon walls and sharp slopes on the northern sides of mountain ranges. Live oak’s strong roots, thick bark and longevity make them perfect inhabitants of remote canyons. The tree can be found throughout the state from the northern border to the southern hills. The leaves are simple ovoid leaves that are light green in color.

4. Interior Live Oak

Scientific name: Quercus wislizeni A. DC.
Height: 30 – 75 feet
Longevity: 150 – 200 years

Interior oaks are found throughout California at higher elevations. They inhabit dry valleys in the south and low fertile foothills in northern California. Their prevalence in the Sierra Nevada mountains has given these trees the nickname Sierra Nevada oaks. Unlike other live oak species, the interior live oak is not very resistant to fire. They quickly die in fires but have a remarkable ability to resprout in the aftermath of such events. Despite their vulnerability to fire and relatively narrow diameter (only 1 to 3 feet), these live oaks can still live upwards of 200 years.

5. Valley Oak

Valley Oak Tree_Sundy Photography_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Sundry Photography, Shutterstock
Scientific name: Quercus lobata Nee
Height: 40 – 120 feet
Longevity: 150 – 250 years

Valley oaks are lowland trees that grow at elevations near sea level along the coast and just inland. Valley oaks are extremely large oak trees that dominate the areas in which they grow. The oldest of these trees can be found with trunks in excess of 5 feet in diameter. The largest and oldest valley oaks can reach heights of 150 feet and diameters of 8 feet making them one of the largest species of tree in California. Large clusters of these trees exist in the Bay Area and central California.

6. Engelmann Oak

Engelmann Oak_Kit Leong_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Kit Leong, Shutterstock
Scientific name: Quercus engelmannii Greene
Height: 20 – 50 feet
Longevity: 100 – 200 years

Engelmann oaks live alongside coastal live oaks in southern California. Unlike live oaks, Engelmann oaks are not evergreen trees, but they can sometimes retain large amounts of foliage through the winter which gives them away. Engelmann oaks are not particularly tall and to the untrained eye, they resemble live oaks. They are sometimes called mesa oaks and they are exceedingly rare. They are mostly found on the western edges of California’s great deserts. Engelmann oaks are very tolerant to dry heat and extremely hot fires which allows them to persist in harsh climates.

7. California Black Oak

California Black Oak_Sterlinglanier Lanier_Unsplash
Image Credit: Sterlinglanier Lanier, Unsplash
Scientific name: Quercus kelloggii Newb.
Height: 60 – 90 feet
Longevity: 100 – 200+ years

California black oaks are named so as to distinguish them from their more common cousins. Black oaks are common throughout the United States. The California black oak thrives at elevations spanning between 2000 and 6000 feet and grows in hardwood forests found in the mountainous foothills around California. Healthy black oaks can grow as tall as 90 feet or more and have trunk diameters reaching 4 feet. These large trees can also live for an extremely long time. There are isolated reports of some California black oaks living to be as old as 500 years old or more.

8. Oregon White Oak

Oregon White Oak_Dee Browning_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Dee Browning, Shutterstock
Scientific name: Quercus garryana Dougl
Height: 50 – 80 feet
Longevity: 100 – 200 years

Oregon white oaks are large trees found in mixed evergreen forests. They can grow up to 80 feet tall with trunk diameters exceeding 5 feet. They are similar in appearance to valley oaks but are distinguished by their acorn shape and size. These trees can live up to 200 years in good conditions and have a wide distribution. These trees can be found in the humid coastal regions of Oregon and Washington through the hot dry areas of northern California. They have deep green leaves with a good shine and can withstand low-intensity fires that seasonally spread through their habitat.

9. Island Oak

Scientific name: Quercus tomentella
Height: 40 – 65 feet
Longevity: 100+ years

The island oak is a unique species of oak tree native to a group of small islands off the coast of Southern California. Island oaks are sometimes referred to as channel oaks due to their location on the California Channel Islands. There is evidence that these oaks were widespread throughout the state in the distant past but today they are only found on these islands. Their rarity and small geographic habitat have landed them on the list of rare and endangered plants kept by the California Native Plant Society. These short squat oaks are usually found clinging to foggy northern slopes of the island’s hills.

10. Shreve’s Oak

Scientific name: Quercus parvula var. shrevei
Height: 60 – 90 feet
Longevity: 100+ years

Shreve’s oak is very similar in appearance and habitat to coast live oaks. In fact, many people confuse Shreve’s oaks with coastal live oaks which are more common. Shreve’s oaks also inhabit the same foggy coastal valleys that coast live oaks do. The Shreve’s oak is not as well understood as the coast live oak. Shreve’s oak only has 350 documented sightings according to CalFlora compared to 5100 documented sightings of coast live oak. That is because Shreve’s oak wasn’t designated as its own separate species until 1980. Before that, it was considered to be the same as other coastal live oaks in California.

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Most Common North American Oak Trees

These ten oak trees are native to California, but they are not very common throughout the rest of North America. California’s unique Mediterranean climate means that many species are local to the west coast but do not thrive elsewhere. However, oak trees are extremely common throughout the United States and North America.

These are the six most common types of oaks in North America. You have black oaks, bur oaks, laurel oaks, water oaks, live oaks, and pin oaks. These trees can be found in all of the 48 lower states from Maine to Baja California. Each individual climate has unique species of oaks that are slightly different from one another that are adapted to different areas. Live oaks in Florida, for example, are not the same as live oaks in California though they will bear a passing resemblance to each other.

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These ten species make up the group of oak trees native to California. From hardy live oaks to tall red and white oaks, these trees exist from tall wet slopes to low arid desert regions. The oak is one of the most common trees in North America and that is true in California as well. Next time you find yourself outdoors on the west coast keep your eyes peeled for these unique species of oaks that inhabit the Golden State.

Read more: 34 Types of Trees in Maine (With Pictures)

Featured Image Credit: Andrew Sabai, Shutterstock

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