The white oak tree

Quercus alba

White Oak

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White Oak is a large, wildlife-friendly, deciduous tree of the white oak group. Mature White Oak trees are wide and spreading. It is monoecious;…

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Description:

White Oak is a large, wildlife-friendly, deciduous tree of the white oak group. Mature White Oak trees are wide and spreading. It is monoecious; greenish-yellow flowers bloom on separate male and female catkins in April. It tolerates occasional flooding and drought, and has medium-high wind resistance. Acorns provide a valuable food source for birds and wildlife. White Oaks are host to numerous, inconspicuous insects, which in turn provide food for birds. It is a host plant for butterfly and moth larvae (caterpillars), including Edwards Hairstreak (Satyrium edwardsii). White Oak provides nesting space, cover, and shelter for wildlife. Use White Oak as a shade tree for your large yard, neighborhood park, or naturalized area. It can be used as a street tree, but needs room to spread.

Plant Details:

Plant Type: Tree

New Jersey Native: Yes

Deer Resistance: None

Attracts Pollinators and Wildlife: Butterflies, Birds

Salt Tolerance: Medium

Hardiness Zone: 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b

Physiographic Region: All Regions in NJ

Grows in Special Ecoregions: Barrier Island/Coastal, Pinelands

Soil Characteristics

Soil Type: Loam, Organic, Sandy

Soil Moisture: Well-drained, Medium-drained

Soil pH: Acidic, Slightly Acidic, Neutral

Light Needs of Plant

Optimal Light: Full Sun

Light Range: Full Sun, Partial Shade

Water Needs of Plant

Soil Moisture: Well-drained, Medium-drained

Drought Tolerance: Medium

Size and Growth Rate

Height: 50 – 80 ft

Spread: 60 – 80 ft

Growth Rate: Slow

White Oak (Quercus alba)

The white oak is the classic eastern oak species. It is tall (eighty to one hundred feet) and stout (three to four feet diameter) with heavy, nearly horizontal branches that form a rugged, widely spreading crown in open habitats. Under shaded forest conditions the trunk is tall and straight and runs up into a tight, small crown. The size, longevity, and durability of this and other oak species account for the designation of most of the hardwood forests of central and southern North America as “oak forests”.

Leaves and Bark
The leaves of the white oak are five to nine inches long and two to four inches wide. They have five to nine blunt-ended lobes and vary in exact size and shape in different layers of the canopy. The leaves are relatively heavy and thick and may remain attached to the tree through the winter. Fallen leaves accumulate in dense, slowly decomposing masses on the forest floor. The white oak’s bark is light gray and divided by shallow fissures into small, vertically aligned blocks.

Roots
The roots of the white oak are prodigious. At the end of the first growing season, for example, a three inch white oak seedling will have a one-half inch diameter tap root that extends over a foot down into the soil. These roots grow faster than the above ground tree and solidly anchor the white oak. There is within the red pine area of the Nature Trail a large, dead white oak that has for many years continued to stand firmly in place, well supported both by its very strong trunk wood and its extensive and still intact root system.

Flowers
The white oak flowers in the mid-spring with the unfolding of its leaves. An individual tree produces both male flowers (“catkins”) and female flowers. The catkins represent an important spring food source for gray squirrels and many other animals. Fruit from the fertilized female flowers are the familiar acorns that on the white oak mature after a single season. These acorns (which are produced in abundance only every four to ten years) are readily eaten by many species of birds and mammals. The gray squirrel is particularly fond of white oak acorns and is very important in both their dispersal and their planting.

Growth and Longevity
While the white oak grows extremely slowly, individuals can live for five hundred to six hundred years (especially in deep, moist but well drained soils). Through their slow and steady growth and remarkable longevity, white oaks can come to dominate all of the other tree species within a great variety of forest ecosystems.

Plant growth

Transcript

How many years does an oak tree live?

How many years does an oak tree live?

50?

150?

500?

1000?

An oak tree can live for more than 1000 years and goes through many changes in its life cycle.

Life Cycle

Every oak tree starts life as an acorn.

Each acorn contains just one seed.

seed

When a seed germinates it produces a taproot.

taproot

This will anchor the tree for the rest of its life.

As spring arrives, the seed sends up a shoot.

shoot

It pushes through the leaf litter, producing its first leaves for photosynthesis.

photosynthesis

The oak tree is now a seedling.

seedling

Most oak trees won’t produce a good crop of acorns until they are around 50 years old.

Over the next hundred years, the young tree matures into a majestic adult.

adult

A mature tree can grow up to 45 metres tall and can spread almost as wide.

At 700 years old the oak has reached old age.

It produces fewer acorns and only grows very slowly.

At 1000 years old, the oak is nearing the end of its life.

Parts of the tree start to die.

Over its lifespan an oak tree can produce as many as 10 million acorns.

lifespan

Some of these will grow into a new generation of oak trees.

An oak tree goes through many changes in its life cycle.

Swamp white oak

Tree & Plant Care

One of the easiest oaks to transplant and more tolerant of poor drainage than other oaks.

Avoid high pH soils or plants may develop chlorotic (yellowing ) leaves.

Tolerant of salt, drought and heat.

Prune oaks in the dormant season to avoid attracting beetles that may carry oak wilt.

Disease, pests, and problems

Anthracnose, occasional powdery mildew, chlorois in high pH soils, and insect galls.

Disease, pests, and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

Swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) photo: John Hagstrom

C-Value: 6

Bark color and texture

Mature bark is a dark gray-brown with blocky ridges,. Young trees develop a flaky, peeling bark that reveals an orange inner bark.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate, simple, rounded to coarsely lobed leaves with variable wavy margins. Dark green above with silvery-white underside. Leaves turn to golden or orange brown in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Male flowers hang in clusters of catkins.

Female flowers are inconspicuous, tiny spikes in leaf axils.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Acorns are 1 inch long and enclosed halfway with a warty cap. The cap often remains attached to a stalk (peduncle) once the fruit is ripe and falls from the tree.

Cultivars and their differences

“This plant is a cultivar of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits.”

American Dream® (Quercus bicolor ‘JFS-KW12’): Good resistance to anthracnose and powdery mildew. This cultivar has a broadly pyramidal shape and dark green foliage changint to yellow brown in fall.

Related hybrids (between Quercus bicolor and Quercus robur ‘Fastigiata)

Kindred Spirit® Ware’s Oak (Quercus x warei ‘Nadler’): A columnar cultivar, growing 40 feet high by 6 feet wide; red-orange fall color. Resistant to drought and powdery mildew.

Regal Prince® Ware’s Oak (Quercus x warei ‘Long’): Narrow habit (45 feet high and 20 to 25 feet wide); excellent resistance to borers and powdery mildew. Yellow fall color.

Nineteen Species of Oak Trees in Florida

There are nineteen species of Oak Trees native to Florida. Oaks are very common and attractive trees that provide valuable wildlife habitat and food. They are strong and durable with a long lifespan.

Here is a list of some of the Oak Trees found in the sunshine state:

Black Oak (Quercus velutina)

Black oaks can have trunk diameters between 3 and 4 feet and reach as high as 85 feet.

Bluejack Oak (Quercus marilandica)

Small but strong, blackjack oaks typically don’t grow higher than 50 feet; usually, they’re between 20 and 30 feet when they’re growing in North Florida.

Bluff Oak (Quercus austrina)

Bluff oaks are typically found on riverside bluffs in fertile, moist soils. This oak produces oval-shaped acorns, unlike other acorns that you’ll see in the North Florida timberlands.

Chapman Oak (Quercus chapmanii)

Chapman oak trees can grow up to 50 feet high and have diameters of more than 12 inches, and they don’t usually get that large in Florida.

Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii)

Chinkapin oak trees are not usually found on the coastal plains, but inland, they’re very good at reaching heights between 60 and 80 feet with 36-inch diameters.

Grand Oak (Guercus)

The Grand oak tree is one of the largest and oldest specimens of its kind in Tampa Bay. It is also one of the hardiest and sturdiest trees of its species. The trunk can measure at least 34 inches diameter.

Laurel Oak (Quercus laurifolia)

Typically growing up to 60 feet, laurel oaks are usually very thick – they generally have trunk diameters of 3 to 4 feet.

Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)

Live oak trees tend to grow to heights of 40 to 50 feet. The live oak is ideal for timber due to their massive trunk diameters which sometimes reaches 48 inches across. Because they retain their leaves until after the following year’s leaves appear, they’re considered “evergreen.”

Myrtle Oak (Quercus myrtifolia)

Myrtle oak trees are common along seashores, where they rarely grow over 35 feet with a trunk diameter of 4 to 8 inches. This oak is an evergreen shrub or tree that slowly grows.

Overcup Oak (Quercus lyata)

Overcup oaks can grow up to heights of 100 feet, but in Florida, they’re typically much shorter.

Post Oak (Quercus stellata)

Post oak trees can grow up to 50 feet high, but they’re typically more squat when they grow in Florida; they do best on dry, sandy soils and on rocky slopes, although they also appear in rich bottomlands.

Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii)

Shumard oaks are large and beautiful. They can reach up to 125 feet in height. It does best in deep, rich bottomlands near streams and on riverbanks.

Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)

Southern red oak trees can grow as tall as 70 to 80 feet, and they typically have trunk diameters of 2 to 3 feet. They’re exceptionally well-suited to dry, infertile soil.

Swamp Chestnut Oak (Quercus michauxii)

Growing up to 80 feet, the swamp chestnut oak grows well in moist, bottomland soils that are periodically flooded in North Florida.

Turkey Oak (Quercus laevis)

Turkey oak trees grow up to reach approximately 30 to 40 feet with thin trunk diameters which are rather small.

Water Oak (Quercus nigra)

Water oak trees are tall but slim, reaching 50 to 70 feet with an average diameter of 2 to 3 feet.

White Oak (Quercus alba)

White oaks, which are ideal for timber, typically grow between 60 and 70 feet in height.

Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)

Willow oaks are some of the most enormous oaks in Florida and can reach between 80 and 130 feet when fully mature. Trunks are generally between 3 and 6 feet thick, and they do well on rich, moist bottomlands along swamps or near streams.

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Getting oak seedlings and sprouts to come back into your woodland in high numbers can be difficult, unless you take the right steps.

Like many other woodland owners, we want more oak on our property. But also like many others, we struggle to get it to grow in the large numbers that we would prefer.

You see, we are all fighting some significant factors that are holding oak back. These include the wide array of wildlife that eat oak acorns and young seedlings, and the competition from other plants for sunlight, water and soil nutrients. We can do something about both of these.

Oak will regrow in two ways. From seed, or as sprouts from established trees. Sprouts have an advantage over seedlings in that they already have an established root system to grow from. Their disadvantage is that they only grow from the stump of established trees.

Oak seeds can grow a fair distance from their parent tree due to distribution by gravity and wildlife. In fact, squirrels burying acorns for a future meal is one of the best ways for oak to be distributed around the landscape. I’ve even heard of landowners collecting buckets of acorns, and leaving them randomly around their woods for the squirrels to hide.

Oak sprouts and seedlings can be quite large and therefore have a bit of an advantage over other trees. This doesn’t really matter though if these new oaks are browsed at a higher rate than other trees, and are not growing in their optimal conditions. Let’s talk a bit more about the best growing conditions.

Oak can grow in a wide array of conditions from full sunlight to fairly complete shade, and sandy soils to richer soils. However, in full sunlight it can’t grow as fast as other trees, and in the deepest shade it tends to really struggle. Some argue that the best way to get oak seedlings and sprouts to flourish naturally, is to create partial shade conditions. This means throughout the day and at nearly any given point in the stand, there is both shade and full sunlight. Trees that need full sunlight struggle under these conditions, and oak grows faster than those trees that prefer full shade.

A forester would call this a shelterwood. A shelterwood is pretty easy to create with the help of a forester. Once your oak seedlings are well established under a shelterwood, you remove the remaining mature trees. Now your oak have a good chance of competing with the faster growing trees.

Before you get started on your shelterwood, you need to make sure that there are enough acorns or oak seedlings present. This can be a problem if there aren’t oak anywhere nearby. Some landowners will plant oak seedlings in areas where they are going to establish a shelterwood. Others will gather acorns from elsewhere and stick them in the ground or just throw them around where they want oaks.

You will most likely need to take steps to protect your seedlings if you have a lot of deer in your area. Putting up fencing is really the best solution for deer. I have erected welded wire and poly fencing to protect several acres of seedlings and for a single seedling. Check out our article on fencing to learn more on this.

One thing I am experimenting with is using fishing line as a barrier for deer. The recommendation is for 20 pound fishing line in three to five rows about a foot between rows. Deer can’t see the line and so when the encounter it, they get frightened and move away.

I am using this method to protect single trees, but others have used this protect larger planted trees. Give it a try and let me know how it works.

White OakQuercus alba

The white oak is a large, strong, imposing specimen. It has a short stocky trunk with massive horizontial limbs.The wide spreading branches form an upright, broad-rounded crown. The bark is light ashy gray, scaly or shallow furrowed, variable in appearance, often broken into small, narrow, rectangular blocks and scales.The leaves are dark green to slightly blue-green in summer, brown and wine-red to orange-red in the fall. The fall foliage is showy. Oaks are wind pollinated. Acorns are produced generally when the trees are between 50-100 years old. Open-grown trees may produce acorns are early as 20 years. Good acorn crops are irregular and occur only every 4-10 years. The white oak prefers full sun, but has a moderate tolerance to partial shade. It is more shade tolerant in youth, and less tolerant as the tree grows larger. It can adapt to a variety of soil textures, but prefers deep, moist, well-drained sites. High pH soil will cause chlorosis. Older trees are very sensitive to construction disturbances. The deep tap root can make transplanting difficult. Transplant when young. New transplants should receive plenty of water and mulch beneath the canopy to eliminate grass competition. Old oaks on upland sites can be troubled by sudden competition from and excessive irrigation of newly planted lawns. Their root zones must be respected for them to remain healthy. White oak is less susceptible to oak wilt than the red oak species.

What Do Oak Trees Need to Live?

oak image by Marek Kosmal from Fotolia.com

Oak trees are some of the most recognizable trees in the American landscape. Easily identified by their acorns and elongated, multi-lobed leaves, oaks are adaptable enough to grow in a variety of conditions — provided certain needs are met.

Soil Conditions

Oak trees generally thrive in moist, well-drained soil. Neutral to slightly acidic soil with a pH between about 6.0 and 7.0 is ideal for most oak trees. Deep, fertile soil is best, but it is not always available in a landscape setting. Oaks can generally make do with average soil, but avoid sand or heavy clay.

Water & Sunlight

Most oak trees grow best in full sun or partial shade. Oaks have moderate water needs, and can withstand periods of excessive moisture or moderate drought. Avoid planting them in a spot where the soil is very dry or routinely saturated with water. Locations where water collects after a rain are not ideal for most oak trees.

Maintenance

Oak trees are relatively low-maintenance. Supplemental water is helpful to newly planted trees, but established oaks generally do not need irrigation except in periods of serious drought. Fertilizer is also usually not needed. You can prune your oak tree during summer, removing only dead and broken branches.

Variety Considerations

Certain oak trees are adapted to slightly different conditions than others. Water oak and willow oak, for example, grows better in moist, swampy sites than other oak varieties. Talk to a local expert or consult your state’s university extension to help you choose oak trees that are suited to your local conditions.

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