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The shumard red oak is a member of the Quercus genus of the Fagaceae, or beech, family. The tree's botanical name is Quercus shumardii. It was named after Texas geologist Benjamin Franklin Shumard. Some people call the tree a shumard oak, swamp red oak, or spotted oak. Shumard red oaks often grow naturally in moist, acidic bottomland soils. Landscapers choose them for their large stature and dense canopy of glossy leaves.
The tree is a deciduous plant that may exceed heights of 100 feet (about 30.5 m). Often it spreads its canopy to 40 feet (about 12 m) or more. A tree in South Carolina in the United States is on record as having reached approximately 155 feet (46 m) tall, with a trunk more than 6 feet (about 2 m) in diameter. The crown spread measured about 115 feet (35 m) across. Other shumard red oak trees have been dated to be approximately 480 years old.
Each leaf generally is dark green and elliptical in shape, with up to nine almost symmetrical deep lobes. Typically, the lobes end in bristly teeth or thorn-like tips, and the smallest lobes are near the stem end of the leaf. Shumard red oak leaves may range from 6 to 8 inches (about 15 to 20 cm) in length or more. The leaves usually turn a deep red or reddish brown in autumn.
The shumard red oak is monoecious, meaning that the female and male flowers are borne on the same plant. The tiny yellow or beige female flowers are borne singly, in pairs, or in groups called racemes. The tree's equally small male flowers grow in separate pendent catkins approximately 6 inches (15 cm) long. The fertilized female flowers often develop into acorns.
One of the methods of identifying oak trees is by examining the acorns. The shumard red oak tree's acorns are generally ovoid, or egg-shaped, and between 0.8 and 1.3 inches (about 1.5 and 3 cm) in diameter. The cap is saucer shaped and scaly, cupping about one-third of the broad end of the nut. Typically, oak nuts develop very slowly and may take more than two years to fully mature. The shumard red oak tree does not produce acorns until it is about 25 years old and does not reach full acorn production until it is nearly 50 years old.
Most literature reports that it is native to parts of the southeastern U.S. Sometimes guides list it as extending as far north as Ohio. The United States Department of Agriculture's map shows that it grows into Ontario, Canada, as well as several northern U.S. states. Although the plant can seem to withstand the temperature fluctuations, gardeners often find that if the soil is not sufficiently acidic, it might not survive.