The pin oak tree can typically be found in swampy, low lands of forested areas. It is very common to see it in seasonal standing water where no other oaks are growing.
It likes acidic soil which is common in the swampy spots of the forest.
In the Oak Openings Region of Ohio the higher sand dunes will quickly give way to swampy areas.
Black oak, white oak, and others will be growing on the sand dunes. Several feet away in a swampy area there will only be pin oaks.
Pin oaks are easy to spot. The bark is relatively thin and does not have deep furrows like burr oak, or black oak. Sometimes it almost looks like a pin oak is growing right out of its bark.
The lower branches are often a tangled mess. They tend to die off as the tree grows taller, especially in a wooded area.
The lower branches grow in a downward direction any way so as they die (due to lack of light) it looks like they are surrounding the trunk. The middle branches grow horizontally while the upper branches grow in an upward direction.
The leaves of the pin oak tree are similar to the scarlet oak, except a little smaller. The pin oak leaf also has a "U-shaped" sinus (or area between the "fingers", or lobes).
The scarlet oak has more of a closed "C-shaped" sinus area. The leaf also has many little spikes on the ends of the lobes.
One might think that the pin oak gets it name from the "pinny" appearance of the leaves and branches. Actually the name comes from the practice years ago of "pinning together" the timbers of a barn. The tough and resilient branches of this tree worked nicely for this task.
The wood of this oak tree is reddish in color and very strong. It will provide very nice firewood when dried. Because it has so many branches that hang on, even when dead, there are a lot of knots in the wood. This sometimes makes it a challenge to split.
(click the images below for larger pictures)