10 Types of Oak Trees in California: Identification Guide (Chart, Pictures)

There are several types of Oak trees in California, and you can recognize them by their enormous sizes.5

However, given the numerous native and non-native species in the state, it can be challenging to identify each type, but this guide breaks everything down for you.

The following guide to the 10 most common types of oak trees in California provides clues and tips for how to distinguish them.

Types of Oak Trees in Southern California and How To Identify Them

The magnificent oak tree is famous not only for its size but its hardwood use in creating flooring, furniture, and many other items. If you live in southern California, you must have come across one of these oak trees.

1. Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)

The Coast Live ranges from 33-80 feet, has a 10-13 feet wide trunk, and usually grows in Mexico and California. It flourishes in the dry coastal valleys of the state, stays evergreen throughout the, and its thick bark keeps it safe from fires and other dangers.

Leaves: 7cm long convex, alternate pattern with rigid, leathery texture
Bark: smooth, grayish brown but gets darker when mature
Flowers: monoecious, yellow-green male part and female organ in reddish green spike
Acorns: thin, light brown, takes a year to ripen

Low angle view of a Coast Live Oak tree with its gray and shallowly furrowed mature bark and green leaves on a sunny day.

(Image: Photosynth3412)

2. Interior Live Oak (Quercus wislizenii)

Also called the Sierra Nevada oaks, you will find this tree in southern California’s elevated regions and dry valleys. It has a relatively thin bark (1-3 ft), making it vulnerable to fires, but the advantage is it quickly re-sprouts and can live to 200.3

Photo of the Sierra Nevada Oak tree planted on a roadside.

(Image: Sairus Patel13)


Leaves: lanceolate, dark and glossy above, white and hairy below
Bark: grayish-brown, ridged
Flowers: monoecious, male flowers in catkins, females in clusters of 2-4
Acorn: narrow, elongated, pointed

3. Engelmann Oak (Quercus Engelmannii)

The Engelmann live with the Coast live oaks in the southern parts of California, but they are not evergreen. However, they are rare types unless you go to the western parts of California deserts, where they can withstand heat and resist wildfires.


Leaves: leathery, blue-green with smooth margins
Bark: thick, gray-brown, rugged
Flowers: whitish-gray clusters
Acorns: stubby, egg-shaped

Photo of the Engelmann Oak tree taken during sunset.

(Image: Noah Elhardt 14)

4. Island Oak (Quercus Tomentella)

This oak is a unique species from the group of islands off southern California. It is otherwise called the Channel oak due to its location in the Islands of the same name, but this location makes it rare, and the California Native Plant Society10 lists it as endangered.

Image of Island Oak trees with its light brown bark and green leaves in forest

(Image: :en:Geographe15)


Leaves: alternate, ovate, dark green
Bark: blocky, smooth, dark brown/ gray
Flowers: inconspicuous, male and female parts together
Acorn: short, egg-shaped

Common Types of Oak Trees in Northern California and How To Identify Them

California prides itself as the state with the most acres of forests (33 million) and state parks in the country.4 Therefore, it features a high population of many native trees. The following are a few of the most common oaks you will find in the northern part of the state.

5. Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)

This tree grows in a pyramid shape and has a higher development rate than many species, but one impressive feature is that the leaves turn colorful like those of a cherry blossom tree during fall. It is also hardy, tolerating the desert heat, but it doesn’t do well in alkaline soils.

(Early Fall)

Leaves: dark green with five lobes divided by deep sinuses
Bark: dark or light brown with slight furrowing
Flowers: blossom in April and June, taking a yellow green-shade
Acorns: stout, almost round

Close up image of a Pin Oak Tree with its light green, bristle tipped leaves.

(Image: Krzysztof Golik 16)

6. Scrub Oak (Quercus berberidifolia)

This tree is unlike a typical giant oak. Instead of the massive trunk and wide canopy, the scrub rarely grows past 20 feet and always looks like a dense thicket. The other name, bear oak, comes about because bears are the only animals that consume the tangy acorns.

Photo of the California Scrub Oak with its shrub-like characteristics.

(Image: :en:Geographer17)


Leaves: alternate, 6 inches long and 4 inches wide
Bark: ridged/ plated, light brown
Flowers: monoecious with male catkins and clustered females
Acorns: egg-shaped with a saucer-like cap

7. Canyon Live (Quercus chrysolepis)

This oak species is one of the most well-distributed in California and has gradually adapted to the state’s geography.6 It has robust roots for anchorage on the canyon walls, and you can find them in high regions of about 9000 feet.


Leaves: pointed tips, rounded base, slightly turned edge margins
Bark: smooth, grayish-brown, slightly scaly
Flowers: produced at 15-20 years, monoecious
Acorns: single or in pairs, generally ovoid

Photo of the Canyon Live tree leaves with its yellow green flowers.

(Image: Krzysztof Ziarnek18)

How To Identify California Oak Trees From the Central Region

The oak is an impressive tree, especially the gigantic size of the trunk and the broad canopy. However, these species are not common as west coast trees compared to their high population in the northeastern US.

If you live in California, particularly the central area, and want to plant one in your backyard, you can try the following options.

8. Valley Oak Tree (Quercus lobata)

Many of these trees grow in central California and the Bay Area since they prefer lowlands and often grow along the coast or at elevations near sea level. They are colossal trees, sometimes 150 feet high and 8 feet wide.

Looking up at the rough, textured bark of a large tree with moss-covered branches against a bright blue sky.

(Image: User:Anlace19)

Leaves: rounded base, sharp tips, dark green at the top, pale green below with soft fuzz,
Bark: wide, rugged
Flowers: monoecious, male on yellow-green catkins and female inconspicuous
Acorns: slender, elongated, mature after a year

9. Blue Oak Tree (Quercus douglasii)

These trees are native to California, growing in the Central Valley, North and South Coast Range, and Bay Area. They are hardy, thriving in the state’s arid wild, comfortable in elevations of 500-2000 feet, and can live long, some reaching 400 years.


Leaves: deciduous, dark blue-green color (hence the name)
Bark: light gray, slight dark cracks
Flowers: cream, yellow and green, appear in winter
Acorns: almost one inch long, narrow base

Photo of Blue Oak in a savanna.

(Image: Yath at the English-language Wikipedia20)

10. Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii)

The California black oak exists in southwest Oregon, down to Baja California, and thrives in elevations of 2000-6000 feet. You can find them in clusters in forests of mountainous areas, and they are as massive as most of their cousins, getting to 90 feet long and 4 feet wide.

A tree branch with new spring leaves and clusters of hanging flowers against a clear blue sky.

(Image: John Rusk21)


Leaves: bright green, 9-20 cm
Bark: heavily furrowed, dark brown or black
Flowers: small male parts on catkins, while females are clustered or single
Acorns: ovoid nut with thin-scaled cup and wooly interior

California Live Oak Tree: Description and Facts

The term live oak comes from the ability of the species to retain its green color all year round, despite the seasons. It means they can “live” through winter, having an advantage over other tree types that lose all their leaves by then.

The trees symbolize strength with impressive heights of 65- 85 feet and wide canopies. It is a common phrase in northern parts of the US since their population in the warm regions is high.

These live oaks are various species in different genera Quercus, sharing a common feature of evergreen leaves7 that always maintain their leaves. Live oaks are common in southern Europe and Asia and don’t necessarily have “live” in their names; they are only referred to as that when planted in the US.

Huckleberry Oak tree growth chart showing full grown Huckleberry Oak tree on a line graph with Huckleberry Oak tree age on the x-axis and Huckleberry Oak tree height on the y-axis.

The live oak trees in California include

  • Channel Island Oak
  • Coast Live Oak
  • Shreve Oak
  • Interior Live Oak
  • Huckleberry Oak
  • Cedros Island Oak
  • Canyon Live Oak

California Red Oak Tree vs. White Oak Tree

Oak trees are not the same but they only come in two colors, red or white. All species fall into either of these groups, and if you want to plant one at your home in California, you should know all their features and how they play out against each other to help you pick a favorite.

  • The California White Oak Tree

One of the easiest ways to identify a white oak is its size. These variants are famous for their overwhelming heights, trunks, and span since an average one can reach 80 feet high. They are also easy to care for and are drought-resistant.

Photo of an oak tree in the dry lands.

(Image: Peggychoucair23)

The wood takes a lighter, ashier color, and the bark is usually rugged, featuring deep ridges, while the leaves are more rounded at the tips. The rough bark makes them aesthetic for planting in your yard, and the size perfect for providing shade and inviting birds to the acorns.

Comparatively, the red oaks are not as giant as the white, although their size is still impressive, achieving an average of 70-75 feet but most stop growing at 60 feet. They are also slimmer, and their branches are not as expansive, which may be ideal if you have a tiny space to plant.

Unlike white oaks, reds are darker, and the bark smoother unless some species with a few shallow ridges. You can also expect some plants to take a reddish shade, and the leaves tend to have pointier ends.

  • The Major Differences
The White OakThe Red Oak
It has soft, rounded leaves.The leaves are sharp.
It is a giant tree when mature, reaching over 80 feet.It rarely goes past 60 feet.
It has a slow growth rate.It can grow several feet annually.
It has a profoundly rugged bark.The bark is usually smoother.

How Many Types of Oak Trees Are There in California? (List of California Oak Trees That Are Native to the US)

There are over 600 oak species worldwide, but only 20 types of Oak trees are native to California.2 Any other variety you see came when more people settled in the region.

Knowing how to identify native oaks8 from the various types of oak trees in California is critical, and the following are a few common ones and their images.

Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii)


It grows to 30-80 feet and lives in the mountain slopes and foothills of the Sierra Nevada and Coast Ranges, particularly in hilly regions of 3000-6000 feet.

An autumn scene with golden-leaved trees under a blue sky in a forest clearing covered with fallen leaves.

(Image: San Bernardino Nat’l Forest24)

Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)

Wide angle shot image of a Coast Live Oak tree with its wide spreading roots and branches in a forest.

(Image: tinyfroglet25)


It rises to 30-75 feet and grows in rocky hills, valleys in Napa and Sonoma, coastal zones, and grassland savannas.

Engelmann Oak (Quercus engelmannii)


Engelmann Oak Tree (Mesa Oak)

It grows in the foothills between the San Diego mountains and coasts at 20-50 feet.

Image of an Engelmann Oak tree in a grassland.

(Image: Geographer at English Wikipedia26)

Interior Live Oak (Quercus wislizenii)

Image of an Interior Live Oak tree with its brown bark and green leaves in a forest.

(Image: Benny White27)


It grows to 25-75 feet in the Sierra Nevada foothills, mount Shasta and the Great Valley.

Valley Oak (Quercus lobata)


This is a massive tree (40-125 ft) that grows inland from the coast in areas lying at 2000 feet.

Full image of Valley Oak in the forest.

(Image: Anlace20)

What Are the Types of Oak Trees in California by Leaf?

You can classify oak trees by their leaf’s color, shape, and number of lobes.

  • White oak – has light green leaves that widen towards the tip with 5-7 lobes
  • Bur oak – has flat-ended one-foot long dark green leaves with 7 or more lobes
  • Red oak – has light green pointed leaves with 6-7 lobes
  • Post oak – has dark green leathery leaves with 5 lobes
  • Pin oak – has thin leaves with several points and 5-7 lobes and they take vibrant colors during fall
  • Shumard oak – has dark green, deeply indented leaves with 7 or more lobes
  • Black oak – has dark green leaves that widen at the ends and have more than 7 lobes
  • Chestnut oak – has dark yellow-green leaves, serrated at the edges with 7 or more lobes

California Oak Tree Leaves: How Can Leaves Identify Types of Oak Trees in California?

The leaves are a crucial aspect to consider when classifying and identifying types of oak trees in California. They may not be sufficient to tell the exact species, but it helps narrow down to the primary classifications for which other features like bark, flowers, and acorns can help shortlist further to find the species.

The leaf shape will help you determine where the leaf falls between the two major classifications, red and white oaks. While white oaks feature rounded leaf edges, those from red are typically pointed and have bristled tips.

You still have to break it down again to identify the specific plant. It may be a live oak with tiny, lanceolate leaves, elongated for a willow oak, or multi-lobed, synonymous with northern oaks.

How To Care for an Oak Tree

It is devastating how many trees are cut down each year, but it helps if more people adopt tree planting in their homes. Oaks are stunning for landscaping, but the first thing to know is that, like any other plant, they also need maintenance despite being hardy.

They enjoy the sun and properly-drained soils, but watering usually depends on the season; you may have to water them frequently when it’s too dry outside but be careful that the tree doesn’t soak excessively.

Fertilizing will also help provide extra nutrients, and regular pruning will keep the tree in great shape. You can get a cost estimate for pruning by using a tree trimming cost calculator. Additionally, if you want to plant other trees near oaks, ensure they are equally drought-tolerant and place them about 6 ft apart to avoid cramping.

We can all agree that increasing the quality of life is one of the benefits of planting trees, which is why it’s so important to maintain them regularly.

Related Reading: How Many Trees Are Planted Each Year? Full List By Country, Type, Year

Are Oak Trees in Danger?

Oak trees are still under threat today due to human and animal activities. Trampling occurs when they are young, and developers and farmers cut down the mature ones for their projects.

Photo of an oak tree in an open field.

(Image: Antranias22)

However, state legislation is stepping in to curb the deforestation of these endangered species.

A Brief History of the Types of Oak Trees in California

The oak tree existed in southern California even before people began settling there. It may still be present in protected places, but the population was higher centuries ago, growing in forests, hillsides, and savannas.1

Oakwood was crucial for the local communities providing nutritious food from acorns and was a significant part of their culture. The Europeans also cherished them when they arrived in the region such that some trees later became boundary marks.

Image of Oak trees with its brown bark and yellow leaves along a pathway.

(Image: Peggychoucair29)

Unfortunately, land misuse and felling for their slow-burning timber led to massive destruction. Farmers also cut them down as they sought more space for more profitable orchard ventures.

Estate developers also cleared them for houses and businesses, given the expanding towns. The law now protects oaks, requiring permits before removal and charging violators. Sometimes the rules are more stringent for some species, and some states have banned cutting them down.

Because trees are the best weapon against climate change, we must do everything in our power to preserve them. By calculating the negative effects using the carbon footprint calculator, we can also take little steps to assist them in saving the environment. If you want to participate in carbon offset planting trees, there are also carbon credit providers who can assist you.

Related Reading: How many trees offset carbon footprint?

Are California Oak Trees Protected by the Government?

You cannot cut down a protected tree in your state or city unless you have a permit. California state laws dictate that you cannot remove it from your property without approval, but the rules vary based on the city.

For instance, the laws for San Diego may not be similar to those in Los Angeles, and you can confirm from the oak tree ordinances of your city. Violating these rules can lead to dire consequences, and it is best always to check, even when the tree is in your home.

A great example is Los Angeles ordinances9 which deem the oak a significant aspect of history, ecology, and the city’s aesthetics; therefore, you must seek a permit whenever you want to cut it down.

What Are the Oak Trees of the Sierra Foothills? Are They Dominant Types of Oak Trees in California?

The forest in the foothills of Sierra Nevada is home to Oaks and hardwoods. They are vital for forage, acorns, nuts, and other fruits necessary for wildlife survival.

The vast oaks are habitats for birds and animals to rest, hide, and give birth.

Close up image of two Oak tree acorns and its green leaves.

(Image: MabelAmber30)

The dominant trees in the area that make all these possible include the Black oak, Interior Live oak, and the Blue oak, which exist in the elevation as the forest alters to coniferous. Together with the other oaks, they come together to create a rich Sierra forest.

What Are the Types of Oak Trees in Texas?

Texas has more than 50 oak tree species, giving you many options if you want to plant one. The most common species include the Live, Bur, and Post oaks. The Live oak is enormous, growing to 60 feet high, and the canopy spans 120 feet.

It takes an impressive, asymmetrical shape; therefore, ensure that you have enough room before planting. The Bur oak is also famous for its size, at about 80 feet high. Also, their acorns are abnormally large.

It is semi-evergreen across the seasons but has a slightly slower growth rate. Lastly, the Post oak enjoys the climate in Texas and doesn’t need a lot of care and maintenance but is usually picky with soil types and the roots are pretty delicate.

You can easily learn to identify the types of oak tree by leaf, since each is distinctive.

What Are the Types of Oak Trees in Florida?

Florida’s hot and humid temperatures can also support oak trees, and some of the most common types of Oak trees in Florida include the Bluejack, Southern Red, and Chinkapin oaks. The Bluejack is originally from the Atlantic and Gulf regions and is relatively tinier than other Florida oaks.

Wide angle shot of a tall Oak tree in a grassland on a sunny day.

(Image: k_r_craft31)

On the other hand, the giant Chinkapin oak lives inland, reaches 60 feet, and has deciduous leaves, while the Southern Red has a long slim trunk, can get to 90 feet when mature, and the leaves are multi-lobed from 3-13 sides.

What Are the Different Types of Palm Trees in California? (Types of Palm Trees in California)

California was a grassland filled with scrubs and oakwood, but now the state is famous for its palm trees lining streets, coastlines, and surrounding homes. There are various types of palm trees in California, located in different parts of the state, but only the California Fan (Washingtonia filifera) is a native tree.

Wide angle shot of tall Palm trees along the beach on a sunny day.

(Image: Pexels32)

You will also find other palm trees like the Canary Island date, European Fan, Desert Fan, Sago, Bamboo, Lady, Chinese Fan, Needle, Paradise, King, and Queen Palms. They all grow in various habitats as long as the conditions are favorable.

California is home to several oak species that existed long before settlers came to explore. The natives highly regarded them, and they are still essential today, centuries later. The climate can accommodate various types, and you can research and choose one that will thrive in your region.

The key is identifying which type works best for you in terms of aesthetics, lifespan, size, and other features. You can never lack options when choosing one out of the various magnificent types of oak trees in California.

Do You Need a Permit To Cut Down Trees on Your Own Property in California?

Do you need a permit to cut down trees on your own property? California does have some laws about which trees may be cut down.

Read More About Types of Oak Trees in California


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