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Quercus bicolor (Swamp white oak)
Smith, R.W.

Quercus bicolor

Quercus bicolor Willd.

Swamp White Oak

Fagaceae (Beech Family)



USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

Swamp white oak is a large, wide, round-topped, deciduous tree. Its leaves, with their silvery undersides, are similar of those of White oak (Quercus alba), yet Swamp white oak leaves lack deeply cut lobes. Tree grows to 100 feet (30.5 m) with an irregular crown. Bark dark gray, deep furrows forming scaly or flat-ridges. Twigs smooth, light brown twigs; buds light orangish-brown, smooth, ovoid and blunt. Leaves petiole from 3/8 - 1 inch (10 - 25 mm) long; leaves are narrowly elliptical to obovate, varies up to 7 inches (178 mm) long and 4 3/8 inches (111 mm) wide; base cuneate to acute, rounded apex; margin with 10 - 20 lobes with shallow sinuses, distal half of blade may have teeth; glossy dark green above with white velvety pubescence beneath. Fall color is golden-brown to russet-red.

The scientific name refers to the difference in coloration between upper and lower leaf surface. The two largest known specimens grow in Highland County, Virginia, and Washington County, Ohio.


From the Image Gallery

1 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Shape: Elliptic , Obovate
Leaf Venation: Pinnate
Leaf Margin: Lobed
Leaf Base: Cuneate
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Inflorescence: Catkin , Spike
Fruit Type: Nut
Size Notes: Height to 80 feet.
Leaf: Glossy dark green above with white velvety pubescence beneath.
Autumn Foliage: yes
Flower: Male catkins 2-4 inches long.
Fruit: Acorns annual; 1 - 2 acorns on peduncle up to 4 inches (101 mm) long; grayish-green cup with scales covered with fine gray tomentum, cup rim often has spinose bristles, cup covers 1/2 to 3/4 of the nut; oblong or ovoid, light brown nut, up to 1 1/4 inches

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Red , Yellow , Green
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May
Bloom Notes: Male flowers yellow-green, females green to red.


USA: AL , CT , DC , DE , IA , IL , IN , KY , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , NC , NH , NJ , NY , OH , PA , RI , SC , TN , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: ON
Native Distribution: Minnesota south to Nebraska, east to North Carolina, and north to Quebec and Maine.
Native Habitat: Moist woods; bottomlands; stream edges and poorly-drained mineral soils.

Growing Conditions

Water Use: High
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Soil Description: Poorly drained, heavy or fine loams or clays.
Conditions Comments: This is one of the faster growing oaks and appears to be more tolerant than similar oaks to landscape use. Swamp white is susceptible to iron chlorosis and prefers somewhat acidic soils.


Use Wildlife: Attracts songbirds, ground birds, water birds and mammals.
Use Food: Acorns (nuts) are edible after tannins are leached or boiled out. Gather nuts during the fall from September to October. Only gather the ripe tan-to-brown acorns, rather than the unripe green ones. To remove bitterness, shell the brown, ripe acorns and remove any corky skin layers, dice the meat, and boil the chunks in water from 15 to 30 minutes until the water turns brown. Then pour off the water and repeat the process until the water clears, indicating that the tannic acid has been removed. During the last boiling, salt water can be added; then the acorns can be deep fried or mixed in a soup. Finely chopped acorn meats can be added to bread doughs and muffin batters.
Use Medicinal: The Iroquois peoples used this oak as medicine.
Use Other: Swamp white oak produces a hard wood that has been used for construction, cabinet making, boat building, railroad ties, fencing, and cooperage.
Warning: Acorns (seeds of nuts) and young leaves. Low toxicity if eaten. Symptoms include stomach pain, constipation and later bloody diarrhea, excessive thirst and urination.
Interesting Foliage: yes
Attracts: Birds


Propagation Material: Seeds
Description: Oaks are most often propagated from seed. No pretreatment is necessary. Plant immediately – outdoors or in deep containers to accomodate long initial taproot. Many oaks require cold temperatures to initiate shoot development.
Seed Collection: Best quality acorns are picked or shaken from the tree. Collect when color has changed to brown. Best if sown immediately as acorns lose viability quickly in storage. Short-term storage in moist, shaded saw dust or sand. Acorns to be sown immediately can be soaked in hot water for 15 min. to prevent weevil infestation.
Seed Treatment: Stored seed should be fumigated with methyl bromide.
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Longwood Gardens - Kennett Square, PA
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE


Bibref 1134 - Field Guide to Native Oak Species of Eastern North America (2003) Stein, John D. and Denise Binion
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Additional resources

USDA: Find Quercus bicolor in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Quercus bicolor in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Quercus bicolor


Record Modified: 2015-05-08
Research By: TWC Staff

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