Pin oaks are an incredibly common type of tree that is used in multiple places because of their adaptability and aesthetic. Chances are high that you have probably stumbled upon one of these trees in your life if you live in the United States, no matter which state.
Pin oak trees are a member of the red oak family and are known for their odd shape when matured. Pin oaks can grow up to 12-15ft tall within 5 years. That’s as tall as 2 NBA players stacked on top of one another. Pin oak trees generally live up to 120 years and reach a full height of 60-70ft.
Pin oaks are great trees. They are seen in parks, golf courses, along streets, and multiple yards. Some may argue that they are overused, but being as they are such a solid choice, I would argue that the point is up for debate!
What Does A Pin Oak Look Like?
Pin oaks have some very distinct and unique features about them that make them so sought after. The University of Kentucky states that pin oaks are about 60-70 inches tall when they are mature but can be over 100 feet tall if they are given the right conditions (so, like the woods and not a residential area).
The width that pin oaks can spread their branches out can reach up to 40 feet but it’s more common to see them at about 25 to 30 feet.
Pin oaks, when they are fully mature, have an odd shape where their lower branches hang down (and a lot of times they will even touch the ground), their middle branches stick straight out kind of like a pair of arms and their upper branches face the sun.
They are a very well-rounded tree if you can picture it. When they are young though, they have a standard pyramid shape.
The leaves on a pin oak are glossy. In the spring and summer months, the leaves are a nice green color but when fall rolls around, they turn a red or bronze color before turning brown for the harsher, wintery months. Pin oaks actually will keep their leaves (some of them at least) throughout winter.
The leaves are also about 4 to 6 inches long, so to picture it, they are about as long as your hand. They have anywhere from 5 to 7 lobes on them. The pin tree also produces a flower, but it shows up about the same time the leaves flourish so they are really hard to see, but an acorn is produced from the tree as a fruit.
If you are still confused, or are simply interested in being able to identify more native trees, consider getting a book like the National Wildlife federation’s Guide To Trees Of North America.
The acorns on a pin oak are about one-half of an inch around and they are your classic acorn shape, rounded with a slight point on the end and wearing a little hat! They are reddish-brown as well.
Where Did The Pin Oak Come From?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the pin oak is Native to North America. You can find pin oaks just about anywhere in the United States today. These trees were first introduced in the 1770s and it was found that they are very easily transplanted, so they took off without a hitch and started showing up all over the country.
Characteristics Of The Pin Oak
The pin oak, as mentioned previously, is a very unique-looking plant but it has some other unique features about it as well.
For starters, the University of Kentucky says that the pin oak loves acidic soil, especially if it is well-drained also. However, it is a hardy tree when it comes to soil conditions and it will also accommodate to tolerate wet soil.
The pin oak loves full sun exposure, so you don’t have to worry about putting it in a place that needs partial shade or full shade, it can just hang out in the sun all day long and thrive. It tolerates these conditions so well because it has a very shallow root system with one central root that burrows into the ground.
Pin oaks are in zone 4 for hardiness which means it is a pretty hardy plant, it can survive in places that are warm and hot during the day but where the temperatures dip down at night and it can also tolerate places where there are winter months that can get pretty intense in their cold weather.
It is one of the fastest-growing oak trees in the world because it can grow an amazing 12 to 15 feet in just 5 years. That is 2 NBA players stacked on top of each other in just 5 years, how insane is that?
The SRS explains that the pin oak is monoecious, meaning that it has both male and female reproductive organs on the same tree. While many trees rely on bees for pollination, not the pin oak. This tree relies on the wind to move the pollen for it to other trees.
Furthermore, the United States Department of Agriculture explains that the pin oak doesn’t have many predators or pests to bother it, just your typical bugs but nothing too serious. They are also seen as very useful plants.
They are useful because they are good for not only decoration and residential areas, but they are a strong and heavy cut of wood that is fantastic for things like fuel for wood stoves and furnaces as well as (fun fact) railroad ties because they are super strong and can warp as well, conforming to their job at hand.
Young deer like to munch on the acorns from pin oaks, so many times hunters will use them in their food plots to help lure deer into their property before hunting season. Deer also really enjoy eating them when they are young saplings.
Full Tree Lifespan: A Timeline Of The Pin Oak
Since the pin oak is a tree that grows up so fast, there are not too many steps in the growing timeline. Essentially, once it is planted and takes off growing, it just needs to mature to have fruit that can reproduce and make other trees.
The Beginning Of A Pin Oak’s Growth
The SRS gives a great snapshot of the growing timeline. First, a tree has to be old enough and mature enough to have a fertile acorn that is capable of growing a tree. A pin oak can have a good acorn for growth at about 15 years old, but it is more common to see it closer to 20 years old.
Acorns start to form on the mature, adult trees in the springtime, month-wise, it is about late April to early May. They fall more towards the end of May and the way that the seeds are spread around (other than just dropping to the ground) is actually by those super cool little scavengers, our friends the squirrel.
The squirrel will usually move these acorns to their final resting place to grow between September and December. Once they are buried in the ground and ready to grow, they have a growing phase, or a stratification phase, of about a month, give or take (the statistic is 30-45 days under the soil to sprout).
These little acorns like it when the temperature they are working with during that stratification phase is about 32 degrees Fahrenheit to 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Considering the time they drop, this isn’t an unreasonable request for them to their new homes.
The pin oak goes through hypogeal germination which is a fancy term meaning that the cotyledon (a fancy name for a part of the stem) stays under the ground when the seed germinates.
For more information on how to grow a pin oak of your very own, check out this article on How to Grow An Oak Tree From An Acorn (6 Easy Steps).
This doesn’t sound too important, but it’s an odd fun fact for the pin oak because usually if a plant has hypogeal germination, it grows slowly when this tree does the opposite.
Early Growing Stages Of Pin Oak Trees
Now, on average, these pin oak trees will have about 8,650 new seedling trees per every 3,500 acres of land but that does not mean that they all grow and survive. Just like any species, they are subject to a lot when they are brand new to the world.
Actually, a lot of the time more than one pin oak sprout will pop up in the same place and the dominant sprout will grow while the others grow more slowly on their stump and if the more dominant (or parent) sprout doesn’t make it, they jump right in and take its place.
So realistically, let’s say that 5 or 6 of these plants all grow in the same place and only one makes it, that can cut down your numbers.
In the early stages, first-year seedlings are prone to get flooded out. They have such shallow roots, so it does not take much to flood them out. However, since it is such a common problem for them to have, there is also a common solution that they use to get through it.
Their little, shallow roots will just cease to exist almost when they get flooded out. They do not grow, but they also do not stop living there. They will hold on for up to 84 days. Eighty. Four. Days. I don’t know about you, but I think that is incredible. They will wait 84 days for the flooding to go away to continue to grow.
Maturation And Aging Of Pin Oaks
Like it was said previously, these bad boys grow so fast. By their second year of thriving and chilling as saplings, they now have a pretty established and strong root system, and that one grounding root has sunk into the earth and claimed its territory.
They grow, again, about 12 to 15 feet in the first 5 years. That’s an average of 2 to 3 feet per year. This makes me think of a child and how fast they grow, and think if your child were to grow 2 to 3 feet in a year. It is incredible how fast these trees can grow!
Although they can sprout up in height, they, unfortunately, do not mature as quickly as they grow. It takes about 15 years for them to be fully matured and ready to disperse acorns that will plant more trees.
Once these pin oaks get to about as tall as they can grow, you will start to see their unique shape starting to form. They will start to sag in their lower branches and their middle branches will scratch out and fan. The pin oak doesn’t get big thick branches like other oaks, they are pretty delicate and thin.
If you have a fallen oak you don’t know what to do with, consider reading this article on the 9 Best Fallen Oak Tree Uses.
Blooming, Fruiting, Maturity Of A Pin Oak Tree
The pin oak has a lot of time to fully mature and because of that, it also has a lot of time to figure out the seasons and when it is supposed to bloom, drop acorns, all of the things it needs to do to survive.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources discusses that the blooming season for pin oaks occurs in mid-spring, closer to May than any other month. They bloom and then fruit a few months later in the heat of the summer, in about July and even into early September.
They are the easiest to identify and pick out during May to September because that is when the tree is doing all of the big tasks it needs to get done for the year. This is also when the leaves will start to change (into September more so than the summer season) when the autumn weather starts to make its way into town.
These pin oaks are perennials, which is a term meaning that they last for a long time and that they will bloom again in the next blooming season. Usually, for plants, it means they will be dormant or just be a bulb under the ground but will bloom again come the spring.
For a tree, specifically the pin oak in question, it means they will lose their leaves (pin oaks keep most of them in the winter months though) and then bloom again when the conditions are right in the spring season to show off their beautiful glossy, green leaves again.
In closing, the pin oak is a great tree to have around. It does not attract too many pests, although some animals do find their acorns to be a tasty treat. It provides a great spot for shade through the grueling summer months and it doesn’t mind at all if it suffers in the sunshine, it prefers that over the shade you’ll be sitting in underneath of it.
It is aesthetically pleasing, scattered all over residential areas for just that reason. Pin oak trees grow well in almost any soil and it is a hardy tree that can survive the elements. They can survive the heat, the cold and even flooding for an incredible period of 84 days.
While they do grow tall quickly, maturing takes a bit longer but it is worth it to have such a great tree nearby. Take a look around your local park next time you are there and the chances are pretty high that you will see a pin oak there.
If you’d like to learn more about the timeline for growing other oak trees, make sure to take a look at our guide: How Long Does It Take to Grow an Oak Tree? Full Timeline.
Dale M. Maronek, James W. Hendrix, Cathy D. Stevens. (1981). Fertility-mycorrhizal-isolate interactions in the production of containerized pin oak seedlings. Scientia Horticulturae. Volume 15, Issue 3. Pages 283-289. ISSN 0304-4238.
Henderson, D.E.; Botch, P.; Cussimanio, J.; Ryan, D.; Kabrick, J.; Dey, D. 2009. Growth and mortality of pin oak and pecan reforestation in a constructed wetland: analysis with management implications. Science and Management Technical Series: Number 1. Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO. Pg 19.
Himelick, E. Watson, G. (2004). Effects of soil pH, root density, and tree growth regulator treatments on pin oak chlorosis. Journal of Arboriculture. 30 (3). Pgs. 172-178.
M. Boyer, J. Miller, M. Belanger, E. Hare, Jiyou Wu. (2008). Senescence and spectral reflectance in leaves of northern pin oak. (Quercus palustris Muenchh.). Remote Sensing of Environment, Volume 25, Issue 1. Pages 71-87. ISSN 0034-4257.