Water oak

Quercus nigra
Family: Fagaceae

Natural Historyturkey oak branch
Leaves of water oak
Photo credit: Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.org

The water oak, also known as spotted oak or possum oak, is a fast grower and reproducer. Therefore, it is often the most abundant species in its stands. It is a relatively short-lived tree compared to other oaks and may live only 60 to 80 years.

Habitat & Range

Water oak grows in moist or wet soils of upland and lowland forests. These trees are often found growing with sweetgum and other hardwoods. As stated earlier, under favorable conditions it is the most abundant species in the stand. It is found on the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains from New Jersey to central Florida, west to eastern Texas, and north along the Mississippi drainage to southern Illinois and western Kentucky.  It can be found growing at elevations up to 1000 feet.

Wildlife Use

Water oak acorns provide food for many animals such as squirrels, white-tailed deer, and wild turkey.

Human Use

The heavy, hard wood of the water oak is sometimes used for lumber but more often as a fuel wood. Its attractive form makes it a favorite street and lawn tree in many southern cities.


Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Water oak is a tall, slender tree that reaches 50 to 80 feet in height, 2 to 3 ½ feet in diameter. It has ascending branches that form a round-topped, symmetrical crown.
Leaves: Leaves are simple, alternate, and deciduous, sometimes not falling until late winter. Leaves are 2 to 8 inches long, 3 to 4 inches wide, variable in shape but mostly spatulate: broad and rounded at the top and narrow and wedged at the base. Leaf margins are variable. They can either be entire, 3-lobed at the apex, or variously lobed, as is usually the case with vigorous sprouts and juvenile plants. The top of each leaf is a dull green to bluish green and the bottom is a paler bluish-green. On the bottom portion of the leaves, rusty colored hairs run along the veins. Leaf petioles are short, stout, and flattened.
Twigs: The twigs are slender, glabrous, and dull red at first, becoming brown with age. The pith is star-shaped and homogeneous.
Bark: The younger trees possess a smooth, brown bark that becomes gray-black with rough scaly ridges as the tree matures.
Flowers: The flowers are unisexual and monoecious.
Fruit: Fruit is an acorn, grown solitary or occasionally in pairs, that matures in the second year. It is ovoid-shaped, light brown to nearly black, with a pubescent tip, and about ½ inch long.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
There are 2 other oaks on our list that have unlobed leaves.



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