Named for the color of its autumn foliage, this deciduous oak has smooth, deeply-lobed leaves that flush from a glossy green to deep scarlet as the temperature drops. As its open, rounded crown can span up to 60 feet across and it grows best under full sunlight, it is an essential canopy species within its native range across the central and eastern US. It is often a codominant member of pine-oak and oak-heath woodlands and forests along with white oaks, black oaks, and northern red oaks. Given its attractive foliage and preference for sandy, dry, acidic soil, it is often grown as an ornamental for landscape design.
Though many birds and small mammals are attracted to this fast-growing oak and use it as a shelter, it is relatively more important as a food source for wildlife. Blue jays, redheaded woodpeckers, wild turkeys, chipmunks, white-tailed deer, and many other species are known to consume many of the scarlet oak’s acorns before they drop in the fall. Also, the invasive spongy moth (Lymantria dispar dispar) has been known to feed on scarlet moths and defoliate them to the point of destruction and, ultimately, death.