Identification Helps: The leaves of black oak tend to have three even-sized indentations along the margins. They do not extend deeply toward the midvein, as in some other oaks.
The bark (at least on older tress) is definitive, but can't be adequately described in words. Even the photo on the left fails to adequately depict the bark.
Preferred Growing Conditions in the Wild: Black Oaks grow only on porous sandy or silt loam soils. They are not restricted to prairie or savanna habitats, but are found in prairies and savannas with porous soils.
Preferred Soils:Only on porous sandy or silt loam soils.
Seasons of Growth and Bloom:Acorns are held on the tree for two years.
Natural Distribution in Ohio:Found across Ohio on porous or well-drained soils.
Description and General Information:Can a tree be a prairie plant? Aren't prairies composed only of herbaceous grasses and forbs? No. Several species of oaks and a few other trees and shrubs are legitimate ecological components of Ohio prairies. In the Oak Openings Region west of Toledo, black oaks are the predominant tree species.
Black oaks (along with several other oak species) can withstand prairie fires reasonably well when mature. The thick, corky bark tends to insulate living tissues from the hot but short-lived flames of prairie fires. Prairie fires injure or burn off the stems of smaller oaks. But prairie oak species, such as Quercus velutina, are seldom killed outright by fires. Stems can be destroyed, but new stems quickly re-sprout from protected, unburned roots. Larger young trees can become scared by fires, which destroys bark on the hottest side of the tree. A year after a fire, the young oak can look mangled and distorted with dead limbs and singed bark. But the tree quickly begins to heal. Dead limbs drop, and new bark begins to grow over old fire wounds.
At maturity, the result is a tree with lower limbs removed. In an open prairie, the oak taken on a majestic spherical shape, open beneath.
Fire injuries to prairie oaks allow insects to deposit eggs which develop into boring larvae under the bark. These insects are the prime food source for birds such as the red-headed woodpecker, a bird found in prairie savannas.