A Tree Identification Booklet
for South Carolina Forests
Lobed Simple Leaf
Characteristics: The leaves are up to 7 inches long, leathery, with a brown, very hairy under-surface. Examine the leaves to observe that they are slightly triangular, broadest near the tip. Blackjack oak is often a short, contorted tree, growing on poor soils.
Location: This tree grows on dry sandy and clay soils in upland ridges and slopes.
Use: The wood is used for firewood and charcoal and railroad cross-ties. The acorns are food for turkey and deer.
FUN TREE FACT: The common name "blackjack" may refer to the leaf's shape similar to a blackjack, a leather covered bludgeon.
Characteristics: The leaves have 5 to 7 lobes, are very deeply cleft and sharply pointed. The central trunk, or stem, is generally straight and does not fork. The leaves turn ruby-red in the fall.
Location: Look for this oak on poorly drained, wet sites including clay soils on level uplands.
Use: It is a graceful shade and street tree. The acorns are relished by deer, wild turkey, and ducks.
FUN TREE FACT: Named for the many spur-like twigs, called pins, that grow on the main branches.
Characteristics: The distinctive leaves suggest a Maltese cross. This tree is sometimes a shrub. The branches and upper limbs are often twisted and gnarled. The leaves are shiny dark-green and slightly rough above and gray-green beneath with star-shaped hairs.
Location: The post oak grows on sandy, gravely, and rocky ridges as well as moist loamy soils of flood plains.
Use: The heart wood is very heavy, hard, and durable in contact with soil. It is used for railroad cross-ties. It has been used for fenceposts, hence its common name "post oak".
FUN TREE FACT: The post oak and blackjack oak form the Cross Timbers in Texas and Oklahoma, the forest border of small trees and transition zone to prairie grassland.
"Scarlet Maple", "Swamp Maple"
Characteristics: This tree has red flowers, fruit, leafstalks, and autumn foliage. The leaves grow opposite on the leafstalk. They have 3 lobes (sometimes 2 smaller lobes near the base) and are coarsely-toothed on the edges. Red maple is brilliant scarlet, orange, or bright yellow in the autumn.
Location: Red maple is a very common tree in the forest. It grows well on moist soils of stream banks, valleys, and dry ridges.
Use: The buds and seeds are favorite food for squirrels and songbirds. It is a handsome shade tree.
FUN TREE FACT: Pioneers made ink and cinnamon-brown and black dyes from a red maple bark extract.
Characteristics: Several different leaf shapes can be found on a single plant. Leaves are elliptical, often with 2 mitten-shaped lobes or 3 broad and blunt lobes. They are shiny green on top.
Location: Sassafras grows on moist, particularly sandy soils, often in old fields, clearings, and forest openings.
Use: Roots and root bark supply oil of sassafras (used to perfume soap) and sassafras tea.
FUN TREE FACT: Sassafras has been used to flavor root beer. The fall color makes this tree a valuable addition to any landscape.
Southern Red Oak
"Spanish Oak" "Swamp Red Oak"
Characteristics: The leaves of the southern red oak have a bell-shaped base, are 5-9" long with 3-7 deep lobes. The center lobe is considerably longer than the others and quite narrow. There are bristle tips (tiny hairs) on the end of each lobe. (You will not find these bristle tips on the end of the white oak leaf.)
Location: Look for the southern red oak in upland areas on dry ridgetops and slopes facing south and west. It prefers dry, sandy or clay soils.
Use: Southern red oak is a high-grade wood for furniture, flooring, veneer, and other useful and beautiful products.
FUN TREE FACT: Called the "Spanish oak" possibly because it commonly occurs in areas of the early Spanish colonies.
Characteristic: The leaves are star-shaped or maplelike, with 5 to 7 long-pointed, finely saw-toothed lobes. The fruit is a "gum-ball" consisting of many individual fruits, each ending in curved prickly points.
Location: Sweetgum is common throughout the state, especially in moist bottomlands.
Use: It is an important timber tree for crossties, furniture, pulpwood, and plywood. The buds and seeds provide food for squirrels and chipmunks. Bobwhite quail, doves, and ducks eat seeds that drop to the ground.
FUN TREE FACT: In pioneer days, gum was obtained from the trunk by peeling the bark and scraping off the resin-like solid. This gum was commonly chewed prior to the development of commercial chewing gum.
Characteristics: The sycamore is one of the largest eastern hardwoods. It is easily recognized because of its multicolored, mottled bark. The leaves are 4 -7" long, broad with palmate veining and toothed edges. The fruit is a 1" brown ball hanging on a long stalk.
Location: This tree grows on wet soils of stream banks, flood plains, and edges of lakes and swamps.
Use: The sycamore wood is used for furniture parts, millwork, flooring, specialty products such as butcher blocks, particle board, and fiberboard. Sycamore also makes a good shade tree.
FUN TREE FACT: Sycamore bark peels because the older outer bark layer is inelastic. As the trunk expands, the bark cracks, exposing the whitish inner bark.
Characteristics: This tree has crooked branches, an open crown and is often a shrub. The leaves have 3-5 long narrow lobes each with 1-3 bristle-tipped teeth and are 4-8" long. The base of the leaf is pointed.
Location: Turkey oaks grow in dry sandy soils on ridges and dunes, especially near the coast.
Use: Provides food and cover for wildlife on dry sandy soils.
FUN TREE FACT: The name turkey oak refers to the 3-lobed shape of the leaf suggesting a turkey foot. The tree spreads by underground runners, especially after frequent fires.
Characteristics: The water oak's small spatula-shaped leaves (2-4" long) remain green into mid-winter and gradually fall in late winter. They sometimes show three indistinct lobes. The acorn is small and almost black.
Location: This oak prefers the moist soils found in lowlands.
Use: The wood is strong but splits during drying making it suitable only for rough lumber.
FUN TREE FACT: Compared to other oaks, the water oak is short-lived, only 70 years or less. Also this species is easily damaged or killed by fire.
Characteristics: Leaves have 7 to 9 lobes and smooth margins. In the fall look for the leaves to turn a wine-red color then fade to various shades of brown. Notice the light-gray bark which forms broad scaly plates. The acorn is egg shaped and 3/4" long.
Location: White oaks grow well on all soils except the driest, shallow soils, but do best on deep, well-drained loamy soils.
Use: The white oak's high-grade wood is useful for furniture, flooring, and barrels.White oak acorns are a choice food for squirrels and birds.
FUN TREE FACT: Called "Stave Oak" because the wood is outstanding in making tight barrels. In colonial times it was important in shipbuilding.
Characteristics: One of the tallest (sometimes 200'), and most beautiful eastern hardwoods. The large showy flowers resemble tulips or lilies. The leaves are composed of four large lobes and are about as wide as they are long.
Location: Look for this tree on well-drained soils, especially valleys and slopes.
Use: Yellow poplar is one of the chief commercial hardwoods for furniture, crates, toys, musical instruments and pulpwood.
FUN TREE FACT: Pioneers hollowed out a single log to make a long lightweight canoe. It is told that very tall (200') poplars existed in the primeval forests.
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