Water oak tree leaves

Water oak

Quercus nigra
Family: Fagaceae

Natural History
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.

  • Laurel oak.
  • Live oak.


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Front and back views of a leaf of water oak. The fruit of water oak is a broad, dark acorn. Leaves of water oak. Axillary buds of water oak.
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak
University of Florida
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak
University of Florida
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak
University of Florida
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak
University of Florida

Learn More

  • USDA Forest Service Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) – Quercus nigra
  • UF/IFAS EDIS Fact Sheet
  • USDA/NRCS Fact Sheet

Water Oak Tree Care: Growing Water Oak Trees In The Landscape

Water oaks are native to North America and found across the American South. These medium sized trees are ornamental shade trees and have an ease of care that makes them perfect in the landscape. Try growing water oak trees as street plants or primary shade trees, but be aware that these plants are short lived and can be assumed to survive 30 to 50 years. Read the article below for more water oak information.

Water Oak Information

Quercus nigra is a tolerant plant that can grow in partial shade or sun to full sun. These elegant trees are deciduous to semi-evergreen and an important part of ecosystems from New Jersey to Florida and west to Texas. Water oaks grow at a fantastic rate of up to 24 inches per year. Caring for a water oak is easy, but it is a weak wooded tree prone to many diseases and insect pests.

Water oaks produce copious quantities of acorns, which are a favorite food of squirrels, raccoons, turkeys, pigs, ducks, quail and deer. Deer also browse young stems and twigs in winter. The trees tend to develop hollow stems, which are habitat for a

host of insects and animals. In the wild, it is found in lowlands, flood plains and near rivers and streams. It has the capacity to thrive in compact or loose soil, provided there is adequate moisture.

Water oaks may be short lived but their rapid growth makes them an excellent shade tree for decades. However, special water oak tree care when young is essential to produce a strong scaffold. Both pruning and staking may be necessary to help the tree develop a sturdy skeleton.

Growing Water Oak Trees

Water oaks are so adaptable they are often used as residential, reclamation or even drought zone trees. They may be planted in areas with pollution and poor air quality and the tree still thrives. The trees are reliably hardy in United States Department of Agriculture zones 6 to 9.

Water oaks get 50 to 80 feet tall with a nice cone shaped crown. Bark ages to brownish black and thickly scaled. Male flowers are insignificant but female catkins appear in spring and become wide ½ inch long acorns. The leaves are oblong, spatulate and deeply tri-lobed or entire. Foliage may grow 2 to 4 inches long.

These trees are extremely adaptable and, once established, caring for a water oak is reduced to handling any pest or disease issues and providing supplemental water during extremely dry periods.

Water Oak Tree Care

Water oaks must be trained when young to prevent the crotch from splitting due to poor collar formation and the weight of the side limbs. Young trees should be trained to a central trunk for best plant health. The rapid growth of the plant contributes to its weak wood, which is often hollow by its 40th year. Provide young trees with plenty of water to ensure good cell development and thick wood.

Oaksare host to a number of pest and disease issues. Caterpillars, scale, galls, and borers are the insects of most concern.

Oak wilt is the most serious disease but many fungal issues are often present. These might include powdery mildew, canker, leaf blight, anthracnose, and fungal leaf spot.

A common deficiency in iron causes chlorosisand yellowing of the leaves. Most issues aren’t serious and can be combated by good cultural care.

Water Oak

Color/Appearance: Has a light to medium reddish-brown color, though there can be a fair amount of variation in color. Conversely, White Oak tends to be slightly more olive-colored, but is by no means a reliable method of determining the type of oak.

Grain/Texture: Has medium-to-large pores and a fairly coarse grain.

Rot Resistance: Red oaks such as Water Oak do not have the level of decay and rot resistance that White Oaks possess. Durability should be considered minimal.

Workability: Easy to glue, and takes stain and finishes very well.

Odor: Has a tell-tale smell that is common to most oaks. Most find it appealing.

Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, oak has been reported as a sensitizer. Usually most common reactions simply include eye and skin irritation, as well as asthma-like symptoms. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

Pricing/Availability: Slightly less expensive than White Oak, Red Oak is in good/sustainable supply and is moderately priced. Thicker 8/4 planks, or quartersawn boards are slightly more expensive per board foot.

Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Common Uses: Cabinetry, furniture, interior trim, flooring, and veneer.

Comments: Water Oak falls into the red oak group, and shares many of the same traits as Red Oak (Quercus rubra). Red Oak, along with its brother White Oak, are commonly used domestic lumber species. Hard, strong, and moderately priced, Red Oak presents an exceptional value to woodworkers—which explains why it is so widely used in cabinet and furniture making.

Related Species:

  • Black Oak (Quercus velutina)
  • Bog Oak
  • Brown Oak
  • Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
  • California Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii)
  • Cherrybark Oak (Quercus pagoda)
  • Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinus)
  • English Oak (Quercus robur)
  • Holm Oak (Quercus ilex)
  • Japanese Oak (Quercus mongolica)
  • Laurel Oak (Quercus laurifolia)
  • Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
  • Oregon White Oak (Quercus garryana)
  • Overcup Oak (Quercus lyrata)
  • Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)
  • Post Oak (Quercus stellata)
  • Red Oak (Quercus rubra)
  • Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)
  • Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea)
  • Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii)
  • Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
  • Swamp Chestnut Oak (Quercus michauxii)
  • Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)
  • Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris)
  • White Oak (Quercus alba)
  • Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)

  • Distinguishing Red and White Oak


Water Oak (sanded) Water Oak (sanded)
Water Oak (endgrain) Water Oak (endgrain 10x)

Water Oak


  • Also known as: Possum oak
  • Latin (scientific) name: Quercus nigra
  • Life expectancy: 75 years
  • Height: 78 feet
  • Circumference: 20 feet
  • The height and circumference measurements listed above are for the largest-known water oak in the Atlanta area. This tree is located on private property in Chamblee.

  • Special characteristics:

    The water oak grows very fast. It fills out and is quite a handsome tree until it gets old. Then it tends to fall apart because of its enormous weight.

  • Annoyance factors:

    The water oak often gets root and trunk rot. When its trunk grows to over 4 feet in diameter, it is prone to breaking apart. The tree sheds profusely, but mostly small branches. When the wind blows, there is plenty of kindling to pick up.

    During an ice storm, water oak is the first species of oak to drop live branches because the wood is so brittle due to its fast growth rate.

    Acorns are small, about 1/2 inch. They provide a good source of food for turkeys, quail, ducks, deer and other small mammals.

  • Fun Facts:

    This tree loves wet conditions and will stun you with its rapid growth. Annual rings can show the tree growing upwards to 1.5 inches in diameter per year! This is one tree you would not want to plant near your house. Give it a full yard to thrive.

    The wood of a water oak is worthless for furniture-making because it cracks so easily.

  • Photo Credits:

    Bark: Steven J. Baskauf, Vanderbilt University Bioimages
    Leaf: Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.org
    Acorns: Steven J. Baskauf, Vanderbilt University Bioimages
    Flowers (1) and (2): Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.org

The live oak has one-inch long, oblong shaped acorns that have a scaly cap. This scaly cap often sticks to the branch of the tree with only the acorn dropping to the ground. The water oak has a small round acorn about a half an inch in diameter with a wooly cap that falls attached to the acorn.
Root Systems
The live oak root system is widespread and shallow requiring good drainage and plenty of oxygen. These root systems are shared between other trees making them a formidable foundation for other live oaks, but structures are often in danger if too close to these systems. Water oaks also have shallow root systems that compete for nutrients and water in the soil making it a problem to maintain grass and other close proximity plants.
Water oaks have a weak wood in comparison to its live oak counterpart. The water oak is prone to wind damage, and once this has occurred, is incredibly susceptible to rot and decay. In fact, the water oak trunk is often rotten by the time the tree is fifty (50) years old. Proper maintenance of the water oak can make it a great shade tree for the first thirty to forty years.
Live oaks have a very strong hard wood that was originally used in shipbuilding because the natural curvature of the branches was perfectly shaped for ship hulls. While they can be difficult to train, with proper care and regular maintenance, these trees provide hundreds of years of life, shade, as well as a representation of our southern heritage.

Water Oak Tree

Water Oak Tree- Quercus Nigra For Sale Affordable, Grower Direct Prices Tennessee Wholesale Nursery

Water Oak Tree is a medium sized oak tree from the red oak group. This oak can grow up to 100 feet tall with a 3-foot trunk diameter. Water oaks, which are mostly found in the eastern and southern-central U.S. are found in all coastal states anywhere from New Jersy to Texas, and as far inland as Oklahoma, Kentucky, and even Southern Missouri.

Buy Fast Growing Water Oak Tree

As the dark ages, it will turn gray-black with rough, scaly ridges. The leaves will remain on the tree until about mid-winter. Leaves can be 1 to 5 inches long and 1/2 up to 2 inches broad. They can vary in shape but most commonly take the shape of that of a spatula in as they are full and long at the top and narrow and wedged towards the base. These trees are easily identifiable by their leaves, as they have a love that it has the appearance as if there is a drop of water is hanging from the leaf’s end.

The top of the leaf takes on a bluish green hue whereas the bottom is a paler blue-green. The underside of the sheet also has rusty colored hairs which run along the veins. Acorns from a water oak can be single or in pairs. These acorns will mature at approximately 18 months after they have been pollinated in the fall of their second year.

Water Oaks can thrive well in a wet, swampy area. They are also able to tolerate well-drained sites and even areas with densely compacted soils. Because a Water Oak can grow and reproduce quickly, it usually is one of the more abundant species in a strand of trees. This oak has a relatively short lifespan in comparison to other hardwoods, living only 60 to 80 years.

Water Oak acorns are a source of food for the whitetail deer, the grey squirrel, raccoons, wild turkeys, mallards, ducks, and quails. Water Oaks are known to be used in the southern states for timber and fuel dating back to the 17th century.

Water Oak Trees

The Water Oak Tree, or Quercus nigra, is an American oak tree belonging to the Fagaceae family and the order of Fagales. This oak tree is grouped into the category of “red oaks” and is found growing along both the East and West coasts. Healthy populations of the Water Oak Tree have been discovered as far north as New Jersey and as far south as Texas. In addition to making its habitat in each coastal state, the Water Oak also grows inland through several southern states, including Missouri and Kentucky.

This oak tree grows best in wetland habitats such as swamps and marshes, lightly flooded meadows, and on the banks of rivers and streams. The Water Oak Tree reaches its maximum height at approximately 95 feet tall, and its bark changes color with each passing season. When the Water Oak Tree is young, the bark is dark brown. As the tree matures, however, its bark continues to darken, and the tree develops deep ridged grooves.

Leaves of the Water Oak Tree grow to between 1 inches and 5 inches in length with a maximum width of 2 inches. These leaves are typically flat and square-shaped with a jungle green color and deep veins branching along the body of the leave.

Affordable Water Oak For Every Landscape

Water Oak Tree

Water Oak Tree: Quercus nigra

Water Oak is native to North America and is a very adaptable tree. It can grow in hardiness zones 6 to 9 and can thrive in a variety of soil types. It is considered both a shade tree and an ornamental tree so that it would make a great addition to any property. Its large canopy is capable of blocking out the sun thus lowering the temperature of the surrounding area, as well as adding visual beauty to the environment. The Water Oak takes up a large circumference, able to grow to a height of 50 to 80’ and a similar spread. With yearly growth capable of more than 24”.

Water oak trees are native to North America.

The size of the leaves varies in size and shape. The colors of the leaves are light bluish-green to shiny dark green during the summer, and they change to a bright yellow during the fall. The tree has a thick, spreading canopy, and grows in full sunlight and partially-shaded areas. Water oak trees are popular with animals because of the lush canopy, and the abundant amount of acorns approximately half an inch in length. The tree is favorite for landscaping because it is easy to transplant, and the wood is weaker than other types of oaks trees.
Water Oak Tree Offered in Large Ball and Burlap.

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The Water Oak tree is part of the Red Oak tree family. It has vibrant green leaves and is lovely for a tree house or climbing adventures. This beautiful tree will entice various woodland creatures to come and nibble on its acorns. You will find squirrels, deer and wild turkey are delighted when you add these to your landscape. A few Water Oaks will create a beautiful fence line or boundary for your property.

Water Oak Tree

Water Oak

Quercus nigra

  • Also known as Possum Oak, Duck Oak, Punk Oak, Spotted Oak
  • Hardy North American native
  • Wonderful shade tree and family tree
  • Fast growing, large, deciduous oak tree

Water Oak trees fit right in with the Western United States. This hardy native North American shade tree grows at an astonishing rate of upwards of 2 feet a year! It thrives in diverse soil conditions and in many different landscape zones. With its ability to grow quickly, this tree is known for its abundant amounts of shade and for being a tree that can provide a great amount of privacy.

Water Oak are easily spotted due to its distinct varying leaf structure. It has a simple leaf that has many different colors, from a bluish-green to a dark luscious green. In the fall this tree will stand out in your yard with its vibrant yellow and gold colors. This tree is water wise in its mature years. Once the tree is established stand back and watch the tree grow on its own. The Water Oak is great for making family memories, the big sturdy limbs are great for climbing, the shade provided by the various colors of the leaves are great for hosting family picnics under, or throwing some shade on your house can help cut down on your high utility bills.This tree loves to be planted in full sun to partial shade. This particular oak is also considered to be a fire wise tree helping to offer a buffer of protection during times of need.This tough, strong, heat and cold tolerant tree is sure to add that ‘WOW’ factor to any yard. Feel free to speak with our nursery pro and ask us about placement ideas. Moon Valley Nurseries offers vibrant, healthy specimens for sale. You buy it and we can deliver and plant it!

Southern Tree Farm Photos-Oak Trees

These photos show the assortment of oak trees found at our farm.

  • Laurel Oak-is fast growing, tall, and full. This large tree can reach heights of 65′ to 100′. It’s crown is full and rounded with a mass of 3 to 4 inch long leaves. The leaves of the laurel oak are simple, arranged alternately, and may stay on the tree until gradually falling off in early spring. These elliptical shaped leaves usually have smooth, shiny bright green upper surfaces. The surface underneath is smooth and light green. The greatest bloom is usually observed in the early spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves that turn yellow in the fall may remain on the tree throughout the winter months and then drop in the spring.

    The trunk is tall and straight and has gray/brown bark that is smooth on young trees and then becomes increasingly ridged on more mature trees. This tree has a short lifespan.

    The acorns are about ½” long and occur solitary and occasionally paired. The reddish-brown cap covers ¼ of the light brownish acorn. Acorns mature in two growing seasons. Laurel oak produces large crops of acorns regularly beginning when the trees are about 15 years old. It is an important wildlife food resource for whitetail deer, raccoons, squirrels, turkeys, ducks, quail, birds, and rodents.

    Laurel oaks can grow in several habitats, ranging from moist, well-drained sandy soils in woodlands and hammocks near streams and swamps to better-drained upland sites. The laurel oak is generally described as a perennial tree and is native to the U.S. Its most active growth period is in the spring and summer. It has a low tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions and is tolerant of shade.

    The laurel oak is commonly used as an ornamental landscape tree suitable for large spaces. It is also used for firewood, as well as pulpwood for making paper. Some large trees are sawn into large timbers for industrial uses.

  • Live-Live oaks grow to around 65 to 85 feet tall. The canopy of the tree often spreads wider than their height, reaching widths of up to 120 – 150 feet. They are the broadest spreading of the oak trees producing an abundance of shade. The base of the trunk is buttressed and flared. Because of its large spread, it is a very popular shade tree.

    The leaves are simple and alternately arranged. The leaves stay on the tree through winter until they gradually fall as new leaves emerge in the spring. The leaves are 2″ to 5″ long by ½” to 2 ½” wide. The narrowly to broadly elliptical shaped leaves are usually stiff and leathery. The upper surface of the leaves are shiny and dark green and dull grayish green underneath. The leaf base is tapering and the tip is short pointed to rounded. The bark is dark brown to reddish-brown, thick with shallow furrows and roughly ridged and eventually becomes blocky with age.

    The wood of the live oak is yellowish-brown, very hard and strong and was used years ago for shipbuilding, structural beams, posts, and in places that require strength and durability. Today, while the wood is still used for furniture and fuel, it is predominantly used as a shade and ornamental tree. It is often used as a centerpiece within the landscape. When planting live oak, it should be restricted to large yards or parks where the spreading form can be accommodated. Live oak is one of the heaviest native hardwoods, weighing 55 pounds per cubic foot when air dry. This weight or density makes live oak a good fuel wood although it can be very difficult to split.

    These oak trees remain green and “alive” throughout the winter when other oak trees are dormant and leafless, thus the name and reason they are called “Live Oaks”.

    Live Oaks can adapt to almost any soil, grow rapidly when young and often live to be centuries old. It prefers moist, acid soils made up of sand, clay or loam. It normally grows in low sandy soils near the coast by oceans (they can resist salt spray) but also occurs in moisture rich woods, forests, commonly scattered in pastures, flatwoods, borders of salt marshes, hammocks and along stream banks. They can grow in front of buildings, parking lots, roadsides, gardens and backyards. Because the live oak tends to have shallow roots, they should be planted well away from walkways, driveways and buildings as the roots and branches might become a threat to the structure. The tree will grow in partial shade but prefers full sun.

    Live oaks often support many types of epiphytic plants, including Spanish moss and mistletoe. Because the Spanish moss hangs in weeping garlands, it gives the live oak trees a striking appearance.

    They have separate male and female reproductive units on the same plant- producing male flowers called catkins that bloom in hanging clusters. The female flowers appear singly or in clusters of one to five where the leaves join the twigs. They produce flowers every spring from March through May and the acorns mature in September and fall off by December. Live oak acorns have a light brown cap that covers ¼ of the mostly dark nut, are long, dark brown to black and tapered. They are sweet and very popular with turkeys, ducks quail, deer, squirrels and other animals. If the acorns fall on moist, warm ground, they will germinate soon after falling. Live Oak trees start producing acorns when they are around 20 years old.

  • Live Oak


  • Laurel Oak


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