A bare root Crimson Spire oak planted in Watertown in the fall of 2022 as part of Tree Watertown’s annual tree planting event. Photo by Mike DeMarco

Crimson Spire is the trademark name of Quercus x bimundorum ‘Crimschmidt’, a J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. introduction (1994). This is a narrow-form tree that came from a hybrid of English oak (Quercus robur) and white oak (Q. alba). The English oak parentage lends the fastigiate (columnar) growth habit and tolerance of a range of urban conditions, while the white oak genes lend dark green to blue-green, mildew-resistant foliage and red fall color that was found to be especially vivid in the selection that became Crimson Spire.

Mature Crimson Spire oak from J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co., who introduced the selection to the trade in 1994.

Crimson Spire is hardy to USDA Zone 4 and in optimum growing conditions can mature to as much 45 feet tall and 15 feet wide in the urban landscape. It tolerates periodic drought and periodic wet soils and is largely disease and pest resistant. (As with all oaks, one should prune in the winter to avoid exposing sap that could attract beetles that carry the oak wilt fungus.) Crimson Spire needs full sun to perform best. Little to no pruning is needed, though an occasional droopy lateral may need to be pruned back into balance with the rest of the branches.

Orange-red to rusty-red fall foliage of Crimson Spire. Photo by Mike DeMarco

Crimson Spire is fast-growing and its summer foliage—and persistent light brown winter leaves—provide screening. The fastigiate form means the tree can be used as a single focal point specimen or in small groves for vertical drama. However, because of monoculture failures, lining a whole avenue with Crimson Spire is not recommended for this tree (or any tree species or cultivar). Like most oaks, this selection would prefer not to be in the path of excessive salt spray.

The striking verticality and fall color emergence of Crimson Spire. Photo from J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.

Ithaca, New York City Forester Jeanne Grace speaks on Crimson Spire, of which there are 18 planted on the City’s streets, planted as early as 1998 and as recently as 2017. “They are a great choice for narrow spaces,” Jeanne says. “They have better branch attachments than some of the other narrow oak cultivars. They do have a nice red color in the fall, and notably, they establish well as fall-planted bare root trees.” This makes Crimson Spire a volunteer-friendly option for fall planting events.

One can just imagine the fall color extravaganza this little tree could grow up to provide. Photo by Mike DeMarco

What does Jeanne see as things to look out for? “Crimson Spire tends to want to be very low branched, so where visibility is a concern (e.g., next to driveways or road intersections), it needs to be pruned up regularly when they are young to establish a higher branched canopy,” she says. “They also really like holding onto their leaves through the winter, which annoys some people who want to deal with all their leaf litter in the autumn. However, I think the persistent leaves provide some nice winter interest and probably some cover from the wind for birds on chilly winter days.”

In Watertown, Urban Forestry Coordinator Mike DeMarco and Tree Watertown is just getting started on planting Crimson Spire, bare root, in fall. Stay tuned for reports from Mike as well. 🌳