White oak

Quercus alba
Family: Fagaceae

Natural Historywhite oak branch
Leaves and fruits of white oak
Photo credit: Paul Wray, Iowa State University, Bugwood.org

The white oak is an outstanding tree and is widespread across eastern North America. It is a slow-growing and long-lived species, with specimens known to have lived for over 600 years. White oak is the state tree of three states: Illinois, Connecticut, and Maryland. Its symbolism of age and prestige is further honored on the reverse side of the Connecticut state quarter.

Habitat & Range

The white oak grows in a variety of habitats. It obtains its largest sizes on moist, rich soils, usually in association with other species. It also reaches large sizes on sandy soils and stony ridges. It is found in southeastern Canada and the eastern United States, excluding the lower peninsula of Florida and northwestern Minnesota.

Wildlife Use

The acorns of the white oak are a significant part of the diet of squirrels. They feed a wide range of other wildlife species including turkeys, wood ducks, pheasants, grackles, jays, nuthatches, thrushes, woodpeckers, rabbits, and deer.

Human Use

The white oak is the most important timber species of the white oaks. It was once widely used for ship building and general construction work. It has been recorded that Native Americans found the acorns palatable after prolonged boiling.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: White oak is a large tree reaching 80 to 150 feet in height, 3 to 5 feet in diameter. In the forest, it develops a tall, clean, straight trunk with a small crown. Grown in the open, it has shorter bole and a broad, rugged, spreading crown.
Leaves: Leaves are simple, alternate, and deciduous. They are 5 to 9 inches long, 2 to 4 inches wide and deeply 7 to 9 lobed with rounded sinuses nearly reaching the midrib. The apex is usually 3-lobed. The base is wedge-shaped. Margins are entire, sometimes showing a couple of teeth. Leaves are bright green and glabrous above while paler below. The leaf midrib is yellow. Petioles are stout and up to 1 inch in length. In the autumn the leaves turn dull red or orange.
Twigs: The twigs are slender to moderately stout and pale at first, becoming gray with age. The pith is star-shaped and homogeneous.
Bark: The bark is gray-white to gray-brown with shallow grooves and small rectangular scales. The bark becomes deeply grooved at the base of the tree.
Flowers: The white oak is a monoecious species. Male flowers are yellow-green catkins 2 to 4 inches long. Female flowers are reddish-green small spikes that appear with the leaves during mid-spring.
Fruit: The fruit is a ¾ inch yellow to light brown acorn, grown solitary or in pairs, sessile or on short stalks. The thick scaled, warty cup is bowl-shaped.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
There are 3 other trees on our list that have simple, alternate, pinnately-lobed leaves.

 

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