by Wendy Diaz, EMGV
In 2017, Durham County Citizens nominated three large trees for the Durham’s Finest Tree program and they were evaluated in the fall of 2017. The 2017 winners have yet to be announced but one of the nominations is an impressive Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)1 located at the south end of the Lowes Grove Middle School property in Southern Durham.
The Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak is very tall at a height of 101 feet. Its average canopy is 92 feet and its trunk circumference is 165 inches. The Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak is nearly as tall and as large as the nearby state champion found in Chatham County (located at the Veterans Memorial in Siler City) with a height of 114 feet, a crown spread of 64 feet and a circumference of 175 inches2. The Lowes Grove Scarlet Oak is fairly large for the species that typically grows between 50 and 80 feet with a rounded, open-shaped habit3. The Lowes Grove students affectionately call the stately Scarlet Oak, Abraham, which towers over the football field and its light pole near a small tributary of the Northeast Creek4.
The Scarlet Oak is native to eastern North America. It prefers dry to medium well-drained soils that are acidic and sandy1. This deciduous tree also likes full sun and grows rapidly. It is monoecious with neither the male nor the female flowers being showy. The fruit is a small acorn about half- to one-inch long. The acorns are eaten by woodpeckers, blue jays, small mammals, wild turkey and white-tailed deer3. The tree derives its common name from the reddish color of the wood not for its fall foliage. The Scarlet Oak bark is grey and furrowed. The glossy leaves are green in the summer turning scarlet in the fall. The leaves are deeply cut with bristle-tipped, pointed lobes and typically are three to six inches long. The Scarlet Oak is a low maintenance tree and makes a good shade tree with excellent fall color if it has sufficient space to grow.
The Scarlet Oak can be confused with other similar oaks such as the Northern Red Oak and the Southern Red Oak. Its correct identification can be confirmed by comparing their leaves. Red oaks have pointed lobes but the Scarlet Oak leaf typically has five to seven deep lobes and its leaf shape is in between a Northern Red Oak and a Southern Red Oak; its leaf is not as broad as the Northern Red Oak and is not as deeply lobed as the Southern Red Oak which has a more pronounced main lobe. In addition, the grey bark of the Scarlet Oak is not as deeply furrowed as the Northern Red Oak bark.
The area around the intersection of Highway 54 and Alston Avenue was the location of the Lowes Grove rural community dating back to the 1880’s. The northeast corner was a landmark of innovative education since 1896 when a small log and frame structure was built. The name ‘grove’ came to be when the area residents organized informal church services in a farm building near a grove of trees in 1889. The Little Red School house was rebuilt in 1903 (relocated to the north side of the current Lowes Grove Middle School property). The old school facility was expanded and a larger building was built in 1910. The old Lowes Grove School was one of two schools in the state to receive a farm life grant and the campus was expanded with a demonstration farm in 1913 and in 1922 when the student population was 200 it underwent extensive renovations and three additional buildings were built and completed by 1925 and these four buildings were Durham County’s first all-brick school complex. The old campus was closed in 1989 but at the time the Little Red School house was one of the oldest continually operated buildings in North Carolina. The Lowes Grove area was also the site of the first credit union in the South, which was formed to serve local farmers in 1915.
Most of the buildings for the old school were demolished in 2006 except for one located to the north of the new South Durham Public Library located on the east side of Alston Avenue. Scarlet Oaks are known to have a life span of about 80 years, so it probably did not exist when the the original Lowes Grove school buildings were built but it certainly existed during most of the old rural school’s operation and continues to stand guard next to the new Lowes Grove Middle School today.
- May 18, 2017http://durhamcouncilofgardenclubs.blogspot.com/2017/05 & August 10, 2017 https://durhammastergardeners.wordpress.com
- “Four win in Durham’s Finest Trees contest” The Herald Sun-The Durham Herald, Durham, North Carolina Sunday, August 7, 2016 Page 6 (correction published on August 8, 2016)