Swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) is a mediumsized tree of the north central and northeastern mixed forests. It is found in lowlands, along edges of streams, and in swamps subject to flooding. It is rapid growing and long lived, reaching 300 to 350 years. The hard strong wood is commercially valuable and is usually cut and sold as white oak. Many kinds of wildlife eat the acorns, particularly ducks.
General: Beech Family (Fagaceae). Native trees commonly growing to 15–20 m, sometimes to 30 m, the lateral branches relatively persistent (slow in self-pruning), with an open, irregularly shaped crown; bark dark gray, scaly or flat-ridged, often peeling off in large, ragged, papery curls. Leaves are deciduous, alternate, obovate to narrowly elliptic or narrowly obovate, (8–)12–18(–21) cm long, (4–)7–11(–16) cm wide, usually with regularly spaced, shallow, rounded teeth, or toothed in distal half only, or moderately to deeply lobed, upper surfaces dark green and glossy, lower surfaces lighter green to whitish, softly hairy. Male and female flowers are borne in separate catkins on the same tree (the species monoecious) on the current year's branchlets. Acorns maturing the first year, ovoid-ellipsoid or oblong, mostly 1.5–3 cm long, single or clustered in groups of 2–4, on a stalk (peduncle) 3-8 cm long; cup enclosing 1/3–1/2 of the acorn, scales closely appressed, finely grayish tomentose, those near rim of cup often with a short, stout, irregularly recurved spinose tip. The common name is from its typical habitat and its membership in the white oak subgroup.
Swamp white oak is a member of the white oak subgroup (subgenus Quercus) and hybridizes with related species, including white oak (Q. alba), overcup oak (Q. lyrata), and bur oak (Q. macrocarpa). Swamp white oak is distinguished from all similar native species by its long-stalked acorns.
Variation within the species: Formal variants are not recognized.
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
southern Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio south to northern Kentucky.
Isolated populations occur in Minnesota, New England, Quebec, Ontario,
Tennessee, and North Carolina .
Occurrence in North America
MI MN MO NH NJ NY NC OH PA RI
TN VT VA WV WI ON PQ
-The native range of swamp white oak.
Swamp white oak occurs mainly in the Midwestern states from Iowa, Missouri, eastern Kentucky, and southern Wisconsin east to New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Isolated populations occur northward in Minnesota, other New England states, and Quebec and Ontario, and southward to Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.
Swamp white oak is a native deciduous tree that reaches heights of 50 to
70 feet (15-20 m) and diameters of 2 to 3 feet (0.6-1 m) . It has a
limby bole and an open, irregularly shaped crown. Its bark is flakey
and grey. Its leaves resemble those of chestnut (Castanea spp.); they
are shallowly lobed with serrate margins . The fruit is an acorn
0.75 to 1.25 inches (2-3 cm) long. A mossy-like fringed cup covers from
one-third to one-half of the acorn . Acorns are one seeded (rarely
two) and form singly or in clusters .
Tree, 15 - 30 m tall, trunk 0.66 - 1 m in diameter. Form oval and open. Bark reddish brown and peeling when young, becoming grayish brown and deeply fissured with flattened ridges. Twigs changing from shiny green and reddish brown to peeling and dark brown. Buds light to dark brown, 2 - 4 mm long, egg-shaped to almost spherical with a rounded tip. Each terminal bud is surrounded by a cluster of lateral buds. Leaves alternate, short-stalked, shiny dark green above, pale green to silvery white and hairy beneath, 12 - 18 cm long, 5 - 12 cm wide, inversely egg-shaped with a wedge-shaped base, coarsely round-toothed or shallowly lobed. Foliage turns yellowish brown to orange in fall. Flowers either male or female, found on the same plant (monoecious). Male flowers are borne in hanging catkins, yellowish green, and 7 - 10 cm long, while female flowers are borne in small clusters near leaf axils. Fruit an acorn, developing in one season, usually in pairs, sometimes solitary, with a 2.5 - 10 cm long stalk. The bowl-shaped cup covers one-quarter to half of the nut and has scales that are thicker near the base with a lightly fringed margin. Nut light brown, 2 - 3 cm long and oblong to almost cylindrical.
[adapted from vPlants.org]
Catalog Number: US 2086668
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Original publication and alleged type specimen examined
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): C. H. Muller
Year Collected: 1939
Locality: Sierra de La Madera., Cuatro Cienegas, Coahuila, Mexico, North America
- Holotype: Muller, C. H. 1942. Amer. Midl. Naturalist. 27: 473.
Many oaks in the white oak group and Quercus robur have highly variable, similar leaves with rounded lobes. Quercus alba often has deeply lobed leaves, light gray bark usually with smooth patches, and an acorn cup covered with warty scales. Quercus lyrata has leaves that are inversely egg-shaped with irregular, rounded lobes, and an acorn cup that nearly covers the nut. Quercus macrocarpa has deeply lobed leaves that are inversely egg-shaped and hairy beneath, often corky-ridged twigs, and an acorn cup with long fringes along the margin. Quercus robur has very short-stalked leaves with ear-like lobes at the base, and a long-stalked acorn cup.
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Swamp white oak occurs in river bottomlands, depressions, along
streamsides, swamp borders, and on moist peaty flats [10,20]. It is a
minor component in tamarack (Larix laricina) swamps of southwestern
Michigan . Along the Ohio shores of Lake Erie, swamp white oak
grows in Toledo soil, a very poorly drained, silty clay. It also grows
on Nappanee soils, which are somewhat poorly drained silt loams .
Along the Kankakee River on the Illinois and Indiana border, swamp white
oak is a major overstory component of the floodplain forest. Here the
soils are highly permeable, frequently flooded sandy loams . In
Quebec, swamp white oak occurs on sandy and loamy sand alluvium between
68 and 87 feet (22.6 and 28.9 m) in elevation .
Plant associates include pin oak (Quercus palustris), northern red oak
(Q. rubra), hickory (Carya spp.), beech (Fagus spp.), sweetgum
(Liquidambar styraciflua), yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), red
maple (Acer rubrum), silver maple (A. saccharinum), green ash (Fraxinus
pennsylvanicum), tamarack, dogwood (Cornus spp.), sumac (Rhus spp.),
serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), grape (Vitis spp.), holly (Ilex spp.),
and viburnum (Viburnum spp.) [3,5,9,12,30].
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K098 Northern floodplain forest
K099 Maple - basswood forest
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K101 Elm - ash forest
K102 Beech - maple forest
K103 Mixed mesophytic forest
K106 Northern hardwoods
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood
FRES18 Maple - beech - birch
FRES19 Aspen - birch
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
26 Sugar maple - basswood
14 Northern pin oak
39 Black ash - American elm - red maple
52 White oak - black oak - northern red oak
53 White oak
59 Yellow poplar - white oak - northern red oak
60 Beech - sugar maple
62 Silver maple - American elm
64 Sassafras - persimmon
65 Pin oak - sweet gum
92 Sweetgum - willow oak
94 Sycamore - sweetgum - American elm
108 Red maple
Soils and Topography
Locally common in lowlands, moist woods, floodplains, near swamps, and in poorly drained uplands.
Adaptation: Swamp white oak occurs in a variety of soils (from silty clay to silt and sandy loams) in swamp forests of river bottoms, streamsides, depressions, borders of ponds, lakes and swamps, and moist peaty flats. It also occurs on moist slopes and poorly drained uplands, at elevations of 0-1000 meters. Swamp white oak grows best in full sun in moist to wet, deep, acidic soils. Development of a 2-layer root system allows it to grow well in areas that are flooded in spring but markedly dry in summer.
Young trees of swamp white oak are tolerant of light shade but become more characteristic of full sun with maturity. Swamp white oak usually is a minor component of the forests in which it occurs, perhaps depending on local disturbance for release into the canopy. Stands of elm-ash-cottonwood will convert to oak-dominated stands that include swamp white oak. White oak forests (of which swamp white oak is a component) will progress towards hickory and beech forests if undisturbed.
Flowering occurs in May–June, during early development of the leaves, while fruiting occurs in August–October.
General: Seed production in swamp white oak begins at 20–30 years. The greatest production occurs between 75–100 years; good seed crops are produced every 3–5 years. The acorns have no dormancy and may germinate the same season as ripening and falling. The maximum age for trees of swamp white oak is 300–350 years.
Swamp white oak can sprout from the stump or root crown if damaged or top-killed.
Swamp white oak can be transplanted or propagated from seed. Young plants from containers and young trees in ball-and-burlap are best planted in early spring. Bare-root transplants also are best done in the spring, but these may be difficult because of the strong and rapid development of the taproot.
Acorns are capable of germination as soon as ripe and must be collected for storage shortly after falling from the tree. They retain viability in storage for only a few months, especially if allowed to dry, and should be stored over winter in a cool, moist place at 1–4 C. Germination frequency may be enhanced by stratifying 30–60 days at 1–5 C., but stratification is not required for germination. Acorns planted in the fall in permanent positions give the best results.
Associated Forest Cover
Swamp white oak occurs in four forest cover types: Black Ash-American Elm-Red Maple (Society of American Foresters Type 39), Bur Oak (Type 42), Silver Maple-American Elm (Type 62), and Pin Oak-Sweetgum (Type 65). It is usually found singly in these types but occasionally may be abundant in small areas (6).
Diseases and Parasites
Disease and insects affecting swamp white oak are essentially the same as those found on white oak. Oak anthracnose can be damaging to individual trees but is generally not fatal. Swamp white oak is susceptible to the oak wilt fungus (Ceratocystis fagacearum) and in Illinois Phomopsis canker and Coniothyrium dieback were found on this oak. In addition, an Alternaria fungus was found on blighted petioles (4,7).
Fire Management Considerations
Fire can reduce litter depth, allowing oak seedlings to become
established . Fire can also reduce stocking rates of other species,
allowing oak species to increase in basal area. Fire can induce
vigorous sprouting from older root stock, which may be a preferred
reproductive method .
Broad-scale Impacts of Fire
A prescribed burn on an Indiana savannah did not kill swamp white oak
saplings and larger trees . However, trees did not sprout following
the burn. Average fuel loads were 560 g/sq m before the fire and from
400 to 650 g/sq m 1 year after the fire.
Fires during the dormant season are less damaging to oaks because of
lowered ambient temperatures and the tree's physiological state .
Crooked trees may be killed more easily than straight trees if the
crooked trees are leaning towards the flames. Overstocked stands may
suffer more damage from fire due to reduced vigor and size of
individuals . Fire appears to affect acorn crops only in that,
dying trees tend to produce a massive crop. Acorns themselves are
easily destroyed by fire because of high moisture content .
Immediate Effect of Fire
Severe fires can top-kill swamp white oak . Moderate fires may kill
seedlings and saplings, but older trees usually survive. Fire-damaged
surviving trees are susceptible to disease and insect attack.
survivor species; on-site surviving root crown
All oaks can resprout from stems when top-killed by fire. The ability
to sprout decreases with an increase in age and tree size . Many
seedlings develop an "S"-shaped crook in their stems, which protects
dormant buds from fire heat and enables seedlings to sprout . With
repeated fire stems become calloused. This tissue is filled with
dormant buds that resprout.
More info for the terms: swamp, tree
Swamp white oak is intermediate in shade tolerance but not very drought
tolerant . It is a dominant tree in wetlands on infertile to
fertile soils of oak ecosystems in southeastern Michigan . Without
disturbance elm (Ulmus americana)-ash (Fraxinus spp.)-cottonwood
(Populus spp.) types will convert to oak-dominated types that include
swamp white oak . White oak (Quercus alba) forests of southern Ohio
(of which swamp white oak is a component) will progress towards hickory
and beech forests if undisturbed .
Sexual: Swamp white oak reproduces by seed, which mature in 1 year
. Good seed crops are produced every 4 to 7 years, but many acorns
are infested by insects . Acorns must be collected shortly afer
falling to prevent early germination. Viability can be tested by
dumping acorns into water. Those that float are not viable. Acorns
cannot be stored for more than a few months. Cleaned seed averages 120
per pound (108/kg). One hundred pounds of fruit will average between 60
and 75 pounds (54-67.5/kg) of seed . Seedlings grow slowly at less
than 6 inches (15 cm) per year .
Vegetative: Swamp white oak can sprout from its trunk .
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Plant Response to Fire
much as 3 to 6 feet (1-3 m) per year for the first 2 to 3 postfire years
Reaction to Competition
In forest stands swamp white oak has a straight bole with ascending branches and a narrow crown. However, open-grown trees are generally poorly formed and often have persistent lower branches (4).
Life History and Behavior
D.b.h. classes Stumps likely to sprout cm in percent 15 to 27 6 to 10 75 27 to 39 11 to 15 30 39 to 52 16 to 20 10 52+ 20+ 5
Seed Production and Dissemination
Flowering and Fruiting
Growth and Yield
Swamp white oak normally grows in mixtures with other bottom-land species and is abundant only locally. Individual old growth trees may contain as much net volume as 3.4 m³ (600 fbm) but this is uncommon (4).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Quercus bicolor naturally hybridizes with Q. macrocarpa (Q. x schuettei).
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Quercus bicolor
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status, such as state noxious status and wetland indicator values.
being converted to agricultural lands and subdivisions . Oaks are
susceptible to many insect pests, fungi, cankers, and wilts. Refer to
Solomon and others  for information on how to recognize and control
these diseases . Oak species can suffer from what is known as "oak
decline." This is when trees die or limbs die back due to environmental
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
These plant materials are readily available from commercial sources. Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”
Swamp white oak is susceptible to various insect pests, fungi, cankers, and wilts but none are serious. It is relatively resistant to oak wilt but may be affected by "oak decline;" anthracnose may sometimes be a problem. Growth in alkaline soils (with pH above 7.2) may cause iron chlorosis.
Because of the slow self-pruning habit of swamp white oak, lower branches may require pruning in areas where high clearance is necessary.
Severe fires can top-kill mature trees of swamp white oak. Fire-damaged survivors are susceptible to disease and insect attack. Moderate fires may kill seedlings and saplings, but young individuals can re-sprout following fire. Acorns are easily destroyed by fire because of high moisture content.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Percent oven-dry weight nutrient values for swamp white oak leaves are
as follows :
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
Swamp white oak acorns are an important food for wildlife such as
squirrels, white-tailed deer, beaver, black bear, and a variety of birds
[3,12,24]. It provides cover for birds and mammals .
Wood Products Value
Oak species account for one-third of the hardwood sawtimber volume in
the United States . Swamp white oak is a heavy, hard wood that
machines well, but it can check and warp if not dried properly. It is
used for furniture, flooring, boxes, crates, barrels, kegs, ships and
Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites
Industry: The wood of swamp white oak is light brown, close-grained, heavy, and hard. It is similar to that of white oak (Q. alba) and usually is cut and sold under that name, but the amount of lumbered swamp white oak is a small fraction of the total for ‘white oak.’ Also, because the lateral branches of swamp white oak tend to persist (compared to white oak), the wood is knottier and less valuable. The wood is used for furniture, cabinets, veneers, interior finishing, and flooring, as well as for boxes, crates, fence posts, railroad ties, and beams and boards for general construction. As in white oak, the wood provides tight cooperage and was once widely used in making barrels and kegs.
Conservation: Swamp white oak is planted on highway rights-of-way and is frequently used as a shade tree for large lawns, golf courses, parks, and naturalized areas. The crown shape and bi-colored leaves (dark above, lighter beneath) are attractive features; fall color is yellow, with occasional red-purple. The trees can grow well in areas that are dry, poorly drained and wet, or even occasionally flooded, and they will tolerate significant soil compaction.
Wildlife: Trees of swamp white oak provide cover for birds and mammals. The acorns are sweet and are an important food for wildlife such as squirrels, mice, white-tailed deer, beaver, black bear, and a variety of birds, including ducks and turkey.
Ethnobotanic: Native Americans and pioneers have eaten the acorns raw or cooked. They have been ground into a powder and used as a thickening in stews etc or mixed with cereals for making bread. Roasted acorns have been ground and used as a coffee substitute. Bitterness of the tannins is removed by leaching in running water.
Oak galls, caused by the activity of the larvae of various insects, can be used as a source of tannin and dye. They also are strongly astringent and can be used in the treatment of hemorrhages, chronic diarrhea, and dysentery. Some Native Americans used swamp white oak to treat cholera, broken bones, and consumption. Mulch of the dead leaves is reported to repel slugs, grubs, and various insects.
Quercus bicolor, the swamp white oak, is a medium-sized tree of America's north central and northeastern mixed forests. It has a very large range, and can survive in a variety of habitats. It grows rapidly and can reach 60 to 80 feet tall and live 300 to 350 years. It is not a large tree, typically growing to 20-25m (65–80 ft) tall, with the tallest known reaching 29 m (95 ft).
The bark resembles the White Oak. The leaves are broad ovoid, 12–18 cm (4–7 in) long and 7-11 (3–4 in) cm broad, always more or less glaucous on the underside, and are shallowly lobed with five to seven lobes on each side, intermediate between the Chestnut Oak and the White Oak. In autumn, they turn brown, yellow-brown, or sometimes reddish, but generally, the color is not as reliable or as brilliant as the White Oak can be. The fruit is a peduncled acorn, 1.5–2 cm (rarely 2.5 cm) (.6-.8 in, rarely 1 in) long and 1–2 cm (.4-.8 in) broad, maturing about 6 months after pollination.
The swamp white oak generally occurs singly in four different forest types: Black Ash-American Elm-Red Maple, Silver Maple-American Elm, Bur Oak, and Pin Oak-Sweetgum. Occasionally the swamp white oak is abundant in small areas. It is found within a very wide range of mean annual temperatures from 16 °C (60 °F) to 4 °C (40 °F). Extremes in temperature vary from 41 °C (105 °F) to -34 °C (-30 °F). Average annual precipitation is from 640 mm (25 in) to 1270 mm (50 in). The frost-free period ranges from 210 days in the southern part of the growing area to 120 days in the northern part. The swamp white oak typically grows on hydromorphic soils. It is not found where flooding is permanent, although it is usually found in broad stream valleys, low-lying fields, and the margins of lakes, ponds, or sloughs.
Swamp white oak, a lowland tree, grows from southwestern Maine west to New York, southern Quebec, and southern Ontario, to central Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and southeastern Minnesota; south to Iowa and Missouri; east to Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and New Jersey. It is scattered in North Carolina and northeastern Kansas. This species is most common and reaches its largest size in western New York and northern Ohio.
Cultivation and uses
It is one of the more important white oaks for lumber production. In recent years, the swamp white oak has become a popular landscaping tree, partly due to its relative ease of transplanting. The New York Times has reported that over 400 Swamp White Oak trees are being planted in the newly constructed September 11 Memorial Plaza in Manhattan.
Being in the White Oak family, wildlife such as deer, ducks, and geese, as well as other animals are attracted to this tree when acorns are dropping in the fall.
Quercus robur fastigiata x Quercus bicolor 'Nadler' Kindred Spirit Hybrid Oak
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Swamp White Oak.|
- Flora of North America: Quercus bicolor
- USDA Plants Profile: Quercus bicolor
- USFS Silvic Manual: Quercus bicolor
- Quercus bicolor images at bioimages.vanderbilt.edu
The Iroquois used Quercus bicolor in the treatment of cholera, broken bones, consumption, and as a witchcraft medicine (D. E. Moerman 1986).
Names and Taxonomy
The currently accepted scientific name of swamp white oak is Quercus
bicolor Willd. (Fagaceae) . There are no recognized varieties or
forms. Swamp white oak hybridizes with the following [10,14]:
Q. alba (Q. X jackiana Schneider)
Q. stellata (Q. X substellata Trel.)
Q. lyrata (Q. X humidicola E.J. Palmer)
Q. macrocarpa (Q. X Hillii Trel.)
Q. X introgressa is a hybrid cross formed with another hybrid parent
. Q. meuhlenbergii is introgressed by Q. prinoides and Q. bicolor.
For more information on swamp white oak hybrids see Little .
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