Quercus macrocarpa (Bur Oak)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Fagaceae (Beech)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:sun; forest to open prairie
Bloom season:early spring
Plant height:to 100 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FAC NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct

[photo of flowers] Long, greenish strings of male pollen bearing anthers hang in clumps (called catkins) from buds at the tip of last year's branches. Female flowers are also green, the naked styles clusters on a short thick stalk in the leaf axils of new growth.

Leaves and bark: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: lobed

[photo of leaves] Leaves are broadly club shaped (obovate), 4-8 inches long by 2-6 inches wide, narrowly tapered at the base with several deeper, rounded lobes. Typically a large, deep sinus, shallowly lobed around the edged, is at mid-leaf before expanding fan-like at the tip. The upper surface is dark green and shiny, the lower surface paler and densely covered with short, fine hairs. Leaves turn a golden brown in fall.

[photo of trunk] The trunk can get up to 40 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh), with thick, dark gray bark with deep verticle furrows and corky ridges. Large portions of the trunk may have smooth, lighter gray patches where the bark has sloughed away, caused by a sprophytic fungi that does not damage the living tissue. Branch structure is gnarly, the smaller twigs thick and course with corky ridges appearing in just one or two year old wood.

Fruit: Fruit type: nut

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a round to egg shaped nut (acorn), ½ to just under 1 inch long, set in a dome-like cup around the base that is fringed with thick, coarse, brittle hairs, on a stalk up to ¾ inch long. This cap encloses half the nut or more, sometimes nearly all of it.


Bur Oak is the most common and widespread oak species in Minnesota. While often present in our northern and eastern forests, it is highly shade intolerant and does not regenerate well in competition with others trees and shrubs. It is well adaptive to the open prairie where its thick protective bark is an adaptation to a fire ecology as well as tolerance to drier, sandy soils. Mature Bur Oaks can attain hundreds of years of age and in open savannas the impressive crown can be wider than the tree is tall. In east central and southeastern counties its range overlaps with two other native oaks with round lobed leaves. White Oak, (Quercus alba), can also have a large spreading crown but its bark is thinner and more scale-like without the deep furrows, its leaf lobes are typically more evenly lobed, both upper and lower surfaces are smooth, and the acorns do not sport the coarse hairs around the lip of the cup. The other oak is the Swamp White Oak, (Quercus bicolor), which has very similar bark on mature trees but its leaves have shallow, more even lobes, its acorns are borne on a long stem and their caps have just a few coarse hairs scattered about the cup.

Native Plant Nurseries, Restoration and Landscaping Services ↓

Map of native plant resources in the upper midwest

  • Natural Shore Technologies - Using science to improve land and water
  • Minnesota Native Landscapes - Your Ecological Problem Solvers
  • Spangle Creek Labs - Native orchids, lab propagated
  • Prairie Restorations - Bringing people together with the land
  • Landscape Alternatives

More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka and Dakota counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Rita - Picture correction
on: 2014-10-31 12:54:44

About the picture of the "bur". It is a burl. Definitions follow https://www.google.com/webhp?rlz=1C1CHWA_enUS609US609&ion=1&espv=2&es_th=1&ie=UTF-8#q=burl+definition+

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2014-11-02 06:54:42

See also the Wikipedia definition of burl.

Posted by: kristin driessen - Lake Shore
on: 2018-08-26 22:00:41

Growing next to our driveway. I started trying to identify oaks this summer. Wasn't on this one until the acorns showed up. Big scraggly cap on this acorn.

Posted by: Diana Cumming - Oaks in Afton State Park
on: 2018-10-07 20:38:17

Lots of bur oaks at Afton State Park, up by the visitor's center. Was out on the warm day of October, after cold days, and lots of acorns. There is an 8-year-old swamp white oak in my boulevard, or else I'd try sneaking one of these in there.

Posted by: herman - Anoka County
on: 2019-05-05 14:25:05

There are quite a number of Bur Oaks growing in Columbia Heights (Just North of Minneapolis). CH is a first ring and has two development periods, prewar, with houses clustered to the south 40th-44th Ave, between Central and University, and some pre war houses scattered outside that boundary; and postwar building leading into Fridely just to the north @ about 53rd/694 and east of central about a mile.

There are many old Bur Oaks in the post war development (what had been farm land and open fields). Our house was built in 1955, the fist on the block, with 3 oaks that had to be at least 50 yo at the time, and another 3 on the same block on nearby lots. I often see clusters like this that the developers left, 3-5 trees spanning a couple of lots. Though they make tons of acorns that go to seed, the seedlings never develop into a tree, they will die off before reaching a foot or two. There used to be a few that would take root in fields and vacent-lots back in the 1960s, but alas, no more.

Growing up I was told they were White Oak, however the acorns are smaller, like a fat egg shape rather than oblong, and the outer fringed shell covers most of the seed.

Posted by: Nicolette - Minnetonka
on: 2019-06-26 19:05:01

Mature bur oaks dot the landscape of the UMN campus. That's where I first fell in love with them - they became my favorite tree when I was a student! The ones near Afton Park visitor center are magnificent. It is a shame to see invasive buckthorn trees creeping towards them and competing for resources.

Posted by: gary - Cook County
on: 2019-06-30 14:09:00

At the forest service campground by the Temperance River, I found a small bur oak plant about 1 foot tall. The surrounding forest is jack pine, black spruce, and quaking aspen with a ground layer and shrub layer flora typical for this region of the state.

Posted by: Deborah Goschy - Eagle Lake
on: 2019-07-24 23:49:14

I grew up in Andover, Minnesota, which is in southern Anoka county. There are plenty of red, white, and bur oak there and the picture of the oak savanna looks like what I remember. I always thought the bur oak was very recognizable because of its twisty branches and hairy acorns. Looking at the pictures of the leaves I realize now that some of the trees i thought were white oaks may have been bur oaks as well.

Posted by: Ray
on: 2020-07-22 12:52:23

I have a question about the bur oak leaf cycle. When do leaves begin to regrow in springtime. How unusual would it be for leaves not to have regrown by late April?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-07-22 15:30:36

Ray, in Minnesota I would expect bur oak leaves to be breaking bud in late April to early May, depending on how long winter drags on.

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.


Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.