White Oak Tree Facts – What Are White Oak Tree Growing Conditions
By: Liz Baessler
White oak trees (Quercus alba) are North American natives whose natural habitat extends from southern Canada down to Florida, over to Texas and up to Minnesota. They are gentle giants that can reach 100 feet (30 m.) in height and live for centuries. Keep reading to learn some white oak tree facts and how to include white oak trees in the landscape of your home.
White Oak Tree Facts
White oak trees get their name from the whitish color of the undersides of their leaves, distinguishing them from other oaks. They are hardy from USDA zone 3 through 9. They grow at a moderate rate, from 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60 cm.) per year, reaching between 50 and 100 feet (15 and 30 m.) tall and 50 to 80 feet (15 to 24 m.) wide at maturity.
These oak trees produce both male and female flowers. The male flowers, called catkins, are 4-inch (10 cm.) long yellow clusters that hang down from the branches. The female flowers are smaller red spikes. Together, the flowers produce large acorns that reach over an inch (2.5 cm.) long.
The acorns are a favorite of a wide variety of native North American wildlife. In the fall, the leaves turn striking shades of red to deep burgundy. Especially on young trees, the leaves may stay in place all through the winter.
White Oak Tree Growing Requirements
White oak trees can be started from acorns sown in the fall and heavily mulched. Young seedlings can also be planted in the spring. White oak trees have a deep taproot, however, so transplanting after a certain age can be very difficult.
White oak tree growing conditions are relatively forgiving. The trees like to have at least 4 hours of direct sunlight per day, though in the wild young trees will grow for years in the forest understory.
White oaks like deep, moist, rich, slightly acidic soil. Because of their deep root system they can tolerate drought reasonably well once they are established. They do not, however, do well in poor, shallow or compacted soil. Plant the oak tree somewhere where the soil is deep and rich and the sunlight is unfiltered for the best results.
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Read more about Oak Trees
Esther called upon the White Oak Tree in a spell to make her family immortal. As a consequence of the spell, the wood from the White Oak Tree could kill the Originals. Thus they burned it but Mikael managed to carve a stake from the tree before its destruction.
300 years after the Originals left the New World, the natives planted a new tree and around 1912, the tree was cut down by the Salvatore family so that its wood could be used to build Wickery Bridge.
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White oak, any member of a group or subgenus (Leucobalanus) of North American ornamental and timber shrubs and trees of the genus Quercus in the beech family (Fagaceae). White oaks have smooth, bristleless leaves, sometimes with glandular margins, and acorns with sweet-tasting seeds that mature in one season. Bur oak and chestnut oak (qq.v.) are members of this group.
Specifically, the name white oak refers to Quercus alba, also called stave oak, which is one of the more important timber trees of the eastern United States. It is 18 to 45 m (60 to 150 feet) tall, with pale-gray, shallowly fissured, scaly bark. The glossy, bright green leaves, about 23 cm (9 inches) long and narrow toward the base, are divided almost to the midrib into seven or nine lobes they turn wine red in autumn.
The Arizona white oak (Q. arizonica), which is about 18 m (60 feet) tall, is found in the southwestern United States on the slopes of canyon walls, at altitudes from 1,500 to 3,000 m (5,000–10,000 feet). Its narrow leaves are about 8 cm (3 inches) long and persist for one year.
The shrubby Gambel oak (Q. gambelii) may reach 4.5 m (15 feet) tall. The California white oak (Q. lobata), also called valley oak, is an ornamental and shade tree, often 30 m (100 feet) tall. It has graceful, drooping branches, many-lobed dark green leaves, and distinctive acorns about 5 cm (1.7 inches) long. The ash-gray to light-brown bark, slightly orange-tinted, is fissured into irregular cubes. The Oregon white oak (Q. garryana), sometimes shrubby but often more than 24 m (80 feet) tall, has widespreading branches it is an important timber tree of the Pacific coastal region.
Other timber trees of the white oak group include the chinquapin oak, or yellow chestnut oak (Q. muehlenbergii), a tree scattered throughout its range the overcup oak, or swamp post oak (Q. lyrata), the acorn of which is nearly covered by a deep cup and the post oak (Q. stellata), the leaves of which have square-shaped central lobes. The dwarf chinquapin oak, or dwarf chestnut oak (Q. prinoides), is a shrub that forms dense thickets it is a useful cover plant on dry, rocky ridges.
Many trees of the white oak group have acorns that germinate soon after they fall and are killed by cold before they can take root. Gray squirrels spread white oaks by carrying acorns to other sites and burying them. A decline in white oak reproduction is often associated with a decreasing squirrel population.
Timber from all members of the group is known as “white oak” in the lumber trade.
Root Rot Disease
Armillaria root rot is another fungal disease resulting in white and brown growths. The disease may manifest first as branch die-back and honey-colored mushroom clusters at the afflicted tree's base. The mushrooms may have brown spots and a slight depression in their middle. The mushroom stems are usually ½ to 1 inch thick and can grow up to 6 inches long. White, fanlike growths may appear as well under the tree's bark. Dark-brown growths resembling shoestrings may appear under the bark or on the surface of the tree's roots or trunk. Other root rot diseases, such as Inonotus root rot and Laetiporus root rot, also can produce white and brown growths on a tree trunk.
The leaves of red oak and white oak are similar in length, around 8.5 inches. White oak leaves are narrower at about 4 inches, while red oak leaves are 4 to 6 inches wide. Both red and white oak leaves have lobes. White oak lobes are rounded. Red oak lobes are pointed. White oak leaves become rich red to wine-colored in the fall, while red oak leaves turn a bright red.
- Red oak (Quercus rubra) and white oak (Quercus alba) are both tall trees suited for large landscape spaces.
- White oak leaves are narrower at about 4 inches, while red oak leaves are 4 to 6 inches wide.
A closed grain hardwood, white oak is almost impervious to water. The pores of the heartwood of white oaks are typically plugged with tyloses, which is a membranous growth. Tyloses makes the white oak impenetrable to liquids and particularly suited for use in the boat industry. Because of its resistance to moisture, white oak is also widely used to construct outdoor furniture.
White oak is fairly straight-grained and is a favorite material used in many types of fine furniture. It’s usually available quarter sawn. The grain in quarter sawn white oak has a striking ray flake pattern.
The coloring in white oak is varied. Separate boards of white oak lumber may be dark brown, light brown, or brown with yellow tones. Stain and wood sealer tend to beautifully enhance the appearance of white oak.
Here's how you can help
The best way for you to contribute to this project is to provide a 1- to 3-inch thick round from your tree's trunk or a major branch.
If you can't share a cookie, they'd welcome photographs of the cross-sections of any Oregon white oaks that sustained damage. They ask that you include a ruler or other object in the photo for a relative measure.
With your cookie, they'd like information documented on a piece of paper and placed in a Ziploc bag. Include where the tree is or was located (street address, cross streets, GPS coordinates, etc.) and where the cookie came from on the oak (such as "on the trunk two feet above the ground" or "on a branch 15 feet off the ground.")
"The spot from which it came is just as important as how big it is," Craig said.
They'd also like you to include your best estimate of the age of the tree and any other information you care to share.
An Oregon white oak cookie is labeled with its location and how far up the tree it was cut on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 in Salem, Oregon. (Photo: ABIGAIL DOLLINS / STATESMAN JOURNAL)
You can leave cookies at any time in front of the Olin Science Building, 180 Winter St. NE, piled along the grass of the north entry wall. Or, you can contact the project (phone number and email below), and someone will make arrangements to collect them from you.
There is no deadline. It's only time-sensitive because they'd like you to donate a slice of your damaged Oregon white oak before you find another use for it or sell it for firewood.
Arabas and Craig would be happy to answer any questions you might have. Call and leave a message at 503-370-6604, or email [email protected]
But please, be patient. This isn't their only project, and they're facing unprecedented challenges teaching during a pandemic.