Recently I was asked to identify an oak at the edge of a woodland where a new house had been built. This was a woods tree, with whitish bark somewhat resembling a hickory tree: clearly a white oak. Another clue was the rounded lobes on the leaves. The Latin name for white oak is Quercus alba.
Red oaks, Quercus rubra, have dark bark and ski-track-like striations vertically on their trunks. Lobes on leaves are pointed.
All species of oak are valuable additions to the home landscape, hosting over 500 species of caterpillars that provide food for our bird population. Acorns provide food for a variety of wildlife in fall and winter. With a deep taproot, oaks can be difficult to transplant from typical nursery stock.
The best way to establish an oak is to plant an acorn, either in the ground directly or in a small pot. Be sure the acorn is whole, hard, and brown for effective germination. After a few years, the young oak can be safely transplanted from the pot to its final location. Remember that oaks grow over 80 feet tall with a broad canopy of shade!
Recently I read two interesting books about oak trees that you may enjoy:
Witness Tree: Seasons of Change with a Century-old Oak, by Lynda V. Mapes, a journalist who spent a year living and writing at the Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts. She studied changes to one oak tree through the seasons.
The Nature of Oaks by Douglas W. Tallamy, the University of Delaware entomologist who traces the connection between caterpillars, birds, and our ecosystem, changing the conversation about gardening in America.