Also called scrub oak because of its gnarly branches, this deciduous shrub is widespread throughout its native range within the northeastern US. Though much rarer, some indigenous bear oak populations can be found as far south as North Carolina and as far north as southern Canada. Unlike most native New England oaks, it reaches typical heights under 20 feet and lives between 20-30 years. It can also be identified by its leaves’ slightly bristled tips, shallow lobes, and silvery hairy undersides.
Its demand for sunlight and preference for dry, nutrient-poor soils makes the bear oak a robust early successional species. Often, it recolonizes desiccated open lands that have been subject to cutting and burning, providing restorative structure and shade for soils. Further, it serves as a larval host for the eastern buckmoth and sleepy duskwing butterfly and a shelter for a diverse range of insects. Its bitter acorns, as well as stems and foliage, are an essential food source for wildlife, including squirrels, deer, birds, and bears, hence the name.