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Quercus alba L.
White Oak, Northern White Oak, Eastern White Oak, Stave Oak, Ridge White Oak, Forked-leaf White Oak
Fagaceae (Beech Family)
Synonym(s): Quercus alba var. subcaerulea, Quercus alba var. subflavea
USDA Symbol: qual
USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)
Popular and long-lived shade tree, which grows to 100 feet (30.5 m), with a widespreading rounded crown and with numerous horizontal branches. Bark light gray, shallow furrows forming scaly ridges or plates. Twigs slender to stout, gray to reddish-green twigs with star-shaped pith; buds are reddish-brown and broadly oval and hairless. Leaves petiole 3?8 - 1 inch (10 - 25 mm) in length; obovate to elliptical leaves, 4 - 8 inches (101 - 203 mm) long, 2 3/4 - 4 3/4 inches (70 - 121 mm) wide, margin with 5 - 9 lobes that are widest beyond middle, deep sinuses extending a third or more to midrib; base acute to cuneate, apex broadly rounded; dull or shiny grayish green above, light green with slight pubescence which becomes smooth beneath as they mature.
The classic eastern oak, with widespreading branches and a rounded crown, the trunk irregularly divided into spreading, often horizontal, stout branches. Northern white oak is an imposing, deciduous tree, 80-100 ft. tall, with a straight trunk and a wide (when open-grown) crown. Large, coarse, horizontal limbs are picturesque. Catkins appear just before or with the appearance of new leaves. The round-lobed leaves turn burgundy in fall. Dried leaves remain into winter.
White oak is one of the most important species in the white oak group. The wood is used for furniture, flooring, and spe- cialty items such as wine and whiskey barrels. Used for shipbuilding in colonial times. Continues to be displaced in the market place by several species of red oaks. Acorns are a favorite food source for birds, squirrels, and deer. Used as medication by Native Americans. The largest known white oak specimen had a circumference of 32 feet and grew in the Wye Oak State Park, Talbot County, Maryland. It was destroyed during a storm on June 6, 2002.
From the Image Gallery
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial
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
Fruit Type: Nut
Size Notes: Height to 100+ ft. Width 60 to 80 ft.
Leaf: Green to blue-green above and whitish below.
Autumn Foliage: yes
Flower: Male catkins 2-4 inches long; female flowers small single spikes.
Fruit: Acorns annual; 1 - 3 acorns on peduncle up to 1 1/4 inch (32 mm) long, light gray pubescent cup, enclosing 1/4 of the nut; light brown, oblong nut, up to 1 inch (25 mm) long; germinates in the fall after dropping to the ground.
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Red , Yellow , Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May
Bloom Notes: Male flowers are yellow-green, female flowers are reddish green.
DistributionUSA: AL , AR , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , NE , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: ON , QC
Native Distribution: Eastern Canada and the United States from Quebec and Ontario west to Minnesota, south to Texas, east to Florida, and north to Maine.
Native Habitat: Mesic to dry woods; warm, southwest slopes; rocky hillsides. Dry upland slopes to welldrained loam in bottomlands; may grow as a shrub at 4,500 feet (1,372 m) elevation in the southern Appalachian Mountains and reaches maximum potential height on lower slopes of the Allegheny Mountains and bottomlands of the Ohio Basin.
Growing ConditionsWater Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8) , Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Deep, moist, well-drained, loams & sands. Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay, Acid-based.
Conditions Comments: In spite of a long list of troublesome pests, white oak is durable and long-lived. Do not plant in shade, areas of poor drainage, or alkaline soil. Old trees are sensitive to construction disturbance in their root zone and to planting turf around a tree on what had been a forest duff ground cover.
BenefitUse Ornamental: Fall conspicuous, Shade tree
Use Wildlife: Acorns are horded by birds and rodents.
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. 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.
Use Other: The most important lumber tree of the white oak group, its high-grade wood is useful for all purposes. It is sometimes called "Stave Oak" because the wood is outstanding in making tight barrels for whiskey and other liquids. In colonial times the wood was important in shipbuilding.
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.
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Larval Host: Edwards' Hairstreak (Satyrium edwardsii)
PropagationDescription: Oaks are most often propagated from seed. Plant immediately – outdoors or in deep containers to accomodate long initial taproot. The acorns sprout without a dormancy period and begin to germinate as soon as they fall from the tree. Protect outdoor beds
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. Stored seed should be fumigated with methyl bromide.
Seed Treatment: No pretreatment is necessary.
Commercially Avail: yes
Maintenance: Prune to maintain shape, Prevent complete soil dryness, Fertilize 3 times a year with lawn fertilizer 3:1:2 ratio, May be pruned 12 mo. out of the year
Find Seed or Plants
View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.
National Wetland Indicator Status
From the National Organizations DirectoryAccording to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:
Pineywoods Native Plant Center - Nacogdoches, TX
Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Crosby Arboretum - Picayune, MS
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - Austin, TX
Georgia Native Plant Society - Atlanta, GA
Longwood Gardens - Kennett Square, PA
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE
BibliographyBibref 766 - Dale Groom's Texas Gardening Guide (2002) Groom, D.
Bibref 1134 - Field Guide to Native Oak Species of Eastern North America (2003) Stein, John D. and Denise Binion
Bibref 298 - Field Guide to Texas Trees (1999) Simpson, B.J.
Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 318 - Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region (2002) Wasowski, S. & A. Wasowski
Bibref 663 - Poisonous Plants of North Carolina (1994) Vondracek, W. ; L. Van Asch
Search More Titles in Bibliography
From the ArchiveWildflower Newsletter 1986 VOL. 3, NO.4 - Fall Highlights Busy Season at the Center, Wildflower Days Welcome the Holidays,...
Wildflower Newsletter 1998 VOL. 15, NO.6 - Landscaping with Native Trees, Society for Ecological Restoration Conference Rev...
Additional resourcesUSDA: Find Quercus alba in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Quercus alba in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Quercus alba
MetadataRecord Modified: 2021-03-19
Research By: TWC Staff