White oak (Quercus alba) is an outstanding tree among all trees and is widespread across eastern North America. The most important lumber tree of the white oak group, growth is good on all but the driest shallow soils. Its high-grade wood is useful for many things, an important one being staves for barrels, hence the name stave oak. The acorns are an important food for many kinds of wildlife.
Quecus alba L., white oak, grows from Maine to Minnesota southward to Florida and Texas. It is a large, stately tree that grows up to over 100 feet tall, and 38 to 50 inches in diameter, with a round to wide spreading irregular crown. White oak bark is whitish or light gray, varying from scaly to irregularly platy or ridged and furrowed. Leaves are simple and alternately arranged on the stems; they are 5-6 inches long and have a rounded tip and wedge-shaped base, with evenly notched edges; leaves are bright green above and whitish underneath. Male flowers are green and 2-4 inches long, while female flowers are reddish and they appear as single spikes with the leaves. White oak acorns are oval; about a quarter of the acorn body is covered with a cap which drops off at maturity. There are approximately 120 seeds per pound.
Widespread in eastern North America.
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Occurrence in North America
KY LA ME MA MI MN MS MO NE NH
NJ NY NC OH OK PA RI SC TN TX
VT VA WV WI ON PQ
southwest Maine to northern Florida, Alabama, and Georgia [53,83,148].
It extends westward throughout southern Ontario and Quebec into central
Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and southeastern Minnesota and south to
southwestern Iowa, eastern Kansas, eastern Oklahoma, and eastern Texas
[55,83]. Little  reported that white oak may have been eliminated
from southeastern Nebraska.
The best growing conditions for white oak occur on the western slope of
the Appalachian Mountains and in the Ohio Valley and central Mississippi
Valley . White oak is mostly absent from conifer-dominated stands
at higher elevations within the Appalachian Mountains and from the lower
Mississippi Delta and coastal areas of Texas and Louisiana .
The variety latiloba occurs at the northern edge of the species' range
. The range of var. repanda is poorly documented, but it has been
reported in parts of New England .
The west slopes of the Appalachian Mountains and the Ohio and central Mississippi River Valleys have optimum conditions for white oak, but the largest trees have been found in Delaware and Maryland on the Eastern Shore.
-The native range of white oak.
Distribution and adaptation
Although found on many soil types, white oak does best on coarse, deep, moist, well-drained, with medium fertility, and slightly acid soils. It is well adapted to heavy soils and north and east-facing slopes. Natural stands are often found in areas with loam and clay soil. White oak is moderately resistant to ice breakage, sensitive to flooding, and resistant to salt spray and brief salt-water submergence. It is sensitive to fire injury, coal smoke, and fly ash deposit on soil surface.
For a current distribution map, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Website.
Tree, 22 - 28 m tall, trunk 0.6 - 1.2 m in diameter. Form open with wide-speading, gnarled branches. Bark light gray with shallow fissures or long, scaly blocks. Frequently, infection by a harmless fungus, Aleurodiscus oakesii, causes the non-living outer bark to fall off, leaving smooth, gray patches. Twigs changing from bright green and hairy to reddish or light gray and smooth with age. Buds dark reddish brown, 3 - 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, bright green above, pale green or with a waxy whitish coating beneath (glaucous), 12 - 20 cm long, 6 - 10 cm wide, with five to nine rounded lobes separated by depressions that are deep in sun leaves and shallow in shade leaves. Foliage turns brownish purple in fall. Flowers either male or female, found on the same plant (monoecious). Male flowers are borne in hanging catkins, yellow, and 5 - 8 cm long, while the reddish female flowers are borne near leaf axils. Fruit an acorn, developing in one season, solitary or in pairs, with a 0 - 2.5 cm long stalk. The deep saucer- or bowl-shaped cup covers one-quarter of the nut and has thick and warty scales with fine gray hairs. Nut light brown, 1.3 - 2 cm long and oblong to egg-shaped.
[from vPlants.org, accessed 7 January 2009]
White oak is a medium to large, spreading, deciduous tree which commonly
reaches 60 to 80 feet (18-24 m) in height [31,53,131]. On favorable
sites, individuals may grow to more than 100 feet (30 m) in height and
exceed 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter [19,108]. White oak is slow-growing
and long-lived (up to 600 years) .
White oak is monoecious . Yellowish staminate catkins are borne at
the base of new growth, whereas reddish pistillate catkins grow in the
axils of new growth [119,131,148]. The short-stalked, glabrous, ovoid
acorns are tan to brown [31,53,108]. Acorns are generally borne in
pairs . The rough, warty cup covers approximately 33 to 50 percent
of the nut [31,55,131].
Many oaks in the white oak group and Quercus robur have highly variable, similar leaves with rounded lobes. Quercus bicolor has round-toothed to shallowly lobed leaves that are whitish and hairy beneath, peeling bark on young branches, and a long-stalked acorn cup. 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.
[from vPlants.org, accessed 7 January 2009]
Range and Habitat in Illinois
White oak grows in rich uplands, moist bottomlands, along streams, on
hammocks, sinks, sandy plains, and on dry, gravelly slopes
[17,28,30,99,116]. It occurs on all upland aspects, and slope positions
, but in the southern Appalachians, it exhibits best growth on
northern lower slopes and in coves . White oak is absent on
ridgetops with shallow soil, on poorly drained flats, and on very wet
bottomlands . Latitude, aspect, and topography are important
factors influencing the distribution of white oak within its range .
White oak grows in a variety of dry to mesic woodland communities 
including pine-oak-hickory woods, beech-maple, and mixed hardwood
forests [30,131]. It also occurs in relatively open post oak savanna
 and oak savanna codominated by bur oak .
Plant associates: White oak grows in pure or mixed stands in the
Southeast  but towards the northern portion of its range it rarely
occurs in pure stands . Important tree associates are numerous and
include beech (Fagus grandifolia), sugar maple, black cherry (Prunus
serotina), white ash (Fraxinus americana), yellow poplar, shortleaf pine
(Pinus echinata), loblolly pine (P. taeda), eastern white pine (P.
strobus), jack pine (P. banksiana), eastern hemlock, sweet gum, black
gum (Nyssa sylvatica), American basswood (Tilia americana), shagbark
hickory (Carya ovata), and other hickories (Carya spp.) [28,57,83,110].
Scarlet oak, post oak, bur oak, black oak, and northern red oak are also
important associates , Upland oaks and hickories are the most common
associates . Many herbaceous species grow in association with white
Climate: White oak is often associated with a cool, temperate,
continental climate  but can grow under a variety of climatic
regimes . Mean average temperatures range from 45 degrees F (7 deg
C) in the North to 70 degrees F (21 deg C) in eastern Texas and northern
Florida . Annual precipitation averages 80 inches (203 cm) in the
southern Appalachians but is less than 30 inches (77 cm) in southern
Minnesota . Growing season length ranges from 5 months in the North
to 9 months in the South .
Soils: White oak grows on a wide variety of soils  derived from
many types of parent materials . It grows on silty loam, clay loam,
silty clay loam, fine sand, and loamy clay [12,43,110] but grows best on
deep, well-drained loamy soils. Low soil-nutrient levels limit growth
of white oak only on sandy soils . White oak is common on rocky
Elevation: White oak grows from sea level to 5,900 feet (0-1,800 m)
. In the North, it generally grows under 500 feet (152 m) in
elevation, but in the southern Appalachians, it grows as a "scrub tree"
at 4,500 feet (1,372 m) . It is absent from higher elevations in
the northern Appalachians. In the Smoky Mountains, two populations are
separated by an elevational gap of 1,000 feet (305 m) . White oak
grows below 2,000 feet (610 m) in the Cumberland Mountains .
Key Plant Community Associations
White oak grows as a dominant in many communities and as a major species
in several cover types [95,96]. Common codominants within the overstory
include northern red oak (Quercus rubra), scarlet oak (Q. coccinea),
northern pin oak (Q. ellipsoidalis), black oak (Q. velutinus), beech
(Fagus spp.), sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), chestnut (Castanea
dentata), red maple (Acer rubrum), sugar maple (A. saccharum), and
hickories (Carya spp.). Understory dominants or codominants include
deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), leadplant (Amorpha canescens), trailing
arbutus (Epigaea repens), huckleberries (Gaylussacia spp.), meadow-rue
(Thalictrum spp.), and false Solomon's-seal (Smilacina racemosa).
Published classifications listing white oak as an indicator or dominant
in habitat types (hts) are presented below:
Area Classification Authority
AL general veg. cts Golden 1979
s IL general veg. cts Fralish 1976
IN general veg. cts Keith 1983
ne IA general veg. cts Cahayla-Wynne &
MI general veg. cts Hammitt and Barnes 1989
general veg. eas Pregitzer and Ramm 1984
n MI, ne WI forest hts Coffman and others 1980
sw OH general veg. cts Braun 1936
e TN general veg. cts Martin and DeSelm 1976
n WI forest hts Kotar and others 1988
Smoky Mtns general veg. cts Whittaker 1956
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
More info for the term: swamp
14 Northern pin oak
15 Red pine
19 Gray birch - red maple
21 Eastern white pine
22 White pine - hemlock
23 Eastern hemlock
26 Sugar maple - basswood
27 Sugar maple
40 Post oak - blackjack oak
42 Bur oak
43 Bear oak
44 Chestnut oak
45 Pitch pine
46 Eastern redcedar
51 White pine - chestnut oak
52 White oak - black oak - northern red oak
53 White oak
55 Northern red oak
57 Yellow poplar
58 Yellow poplar - eastern hemlock
59 Yellow poplar - white oak - northern red oak
60 Beech - sugar maple
61 River birch - sycamore
64 Sassafras - persimmon
65 Pin oak - sweetgum
75 Shortleaf pine
76 Shortleaf pine - oak
78 Virginia pine - oak
80 Loblolly pine - shortleaf pine
81 Loblolly pine
82 Loblolly pine - hardwood
91 Swamp chestnut oak - cherrybark oak
110 Black oak
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):
FRES10 White - red - jack pine
FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress
FRES18 Maple - beech - birch
FRES19 Aspen - birch
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K081 Oak savanna
K095 Great Lakes pine forest
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K103 Mixed mesophytic forest
K104 Appalachian oak forest
K111 Oak - hickory - pine
K112 Southern mixed forest
K113 Southern floodplain forest
Soils and Topography
Mineral nutrition is not limiting to white oak growth except on very sandy soils where moisture is also a limiting factor. The amount of variability in white oak growth that can be accounted for by soil factors alone is low (9,28,37). Nevertheless, several studies have identified the more important factors to be thickness of the A, and A2 horizons and the percent clay in the surface soils (18,25,28). White oak is most frequently found growing on soils in the orders Alfisols and Ultisols.
The major site factors influencing white oak growth are latitude, aspect, and topography (9,18). White oak has the ability to grow on all upland aspects and slope positions within its range except extremely dry, shallow-soil ridges; poorly drained flats; and wet bottom land. It grows best on north and east-facing lower slopes and coves and grows well on moderately dry slopes and ridges with shallow soils. White oak is more abundant although smaller in size on the drier west- and south-facing slopes than on the more mesophytic sites.
It is found at all altitudes in the central and southern parts of its range, but it is seldom found above 150 in (500 ft) in elevation in the northern part of its range. It is excluded from the high Appalachians in New York and New England; but it is a scrub tree at elevations of 1370 in (4,500 ft) in the southern Appalachians (28).
The optimum range of white oak in the Ohio Valley and central part of the Mississippi Valley has the following average climatic conditions: annual temperature, 13° C (55° F); annual precipitation, 1020 mm (40 in); annual snowfall, from 38 to 51 cm. (15 to 20 in); noon relative humidity in July, 55 percent; frost-free season, 6 months; and frost penetration, 25 cm (10 in) (28).
Very common in oak-hickory forests and upland dry-mesic areas.
[from vPlants.org, accessed 7 January 2009]
Fall seeding is preferable to spring seeding. White oak acorns have no dormancy and germinate immediately following seeding. Acorns are drilled in rows 8 to 10 inches apart, or broadcast and covered with ¼ inch of firmed soil. In the nursery, seedbed densities of 10 to 35 per square foot are recommended. Fall sown beds should be mulched to protect the seeds and seedlings. Partial shade is beneficial for germination. Seedlings are transplanted after the first year.
Because of its deep root system, white oak is fairly tolerant of a range of soil conditions and fairly drought tolerant when well established; however, because it is taprooted, it is difficult to transplant. Production in the nursery is difficult as well and growth is slow.
Associated Forest Cover
White oak is a major component of three forest cover types (10): White Oak-Black Oak-Northern Red Oak (Society of American Foresters Type 52), White Oak (Type 53), and Yellow-Poplar-White Oak-Northern Red Oak (Type 59). It is a minor component of the following 28 other forest types:
Northern Forest Region
14 Northern Pin Oak
19 Grey Birch-Red Maple
21 Eastern White Pine 22 White Pine-Hemlock
23 Eastern Hemlock
26 Sugar Maple-Basswood
27 Sugar Maple
51 White Pine-Chestnut Oak
60 Beech-Sugar Maple
Central Forest Region
40 Post Oak-Blackjack Oak
42 Bur Oak
43 Bear Oak
44 Chestnut Oak
45 Pitch Pine
46 Eastern Redcedar
55 Northern Red Oak
58 Yellow-Poplar-Eastern Hemlock
61 River Birch-Sycamore
110 Black Oak
Southern Forest Region
75 Shortleaf Pine
76 Shortleaf Pine-Oak
78 Virginia Pine-Oak
79 Virginia Pine
80 Loblolly Pine-Shortleaf Pine
81 Loblolly Pine
82 Loblolly Pine-Hardwood
91 Swamp Chestnut Oak-Cherrybark Oak
Diseases and Parasites
White oak is attacked by several leaf eaters including the gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), orange-striped oakworm (Anisota senatoria), variable oakleaf caterpillar (Heterocampa manteo), several oak leaf tiers (Psilocorsis spp.), and walkingstick (Diapheromera femorata). Frequently trees are killed from an interaction of damaging agents such as a defoliator followed by invasion of a shoestring fungus and the twolined chestnut borer (Agrilus bilineatus).
White oak also hosts various scale insects, gall-forming insects, and twig pruners, but most of these are of minor importance. White oak acorns are commonly attacked by insects, in some cases affecting half the total acorn crop. Weevils of the genera Curculio and Conotrachelus cause most acorn damage. Light acorn crops usually are more heavily infested than heavy ones. Two moths damage acorns, the filbertworm (Melissopus latiferreanus) and Valentinia glandulella. The Cynipid wasps cause galls to develop in the acorn or on the cup.
The oak timberworm (Arrhenodes minutus) frequently damages white oak, making it unfit for tight cooperage. Attacks by this insect usually occur at wounds made by logging, lightning, and wind. Golden oak scale (Asterolecanium variolosum) can seriously damage and even kill the tree. It is especially damaging when accompanied by drought.
Decay of heartwood resulting from fire scars causes the most serious white oak losses. The amount of decay depends on the size of the wound, the species of fungi, and the length of time since wounding. In general, rot spreads in the stem if the basal sear is more than 0.3 m (1 ft) in d.b.h. The larger the wound, the faster the rot (28).
Oak wilt, a vascular disease caused by the fungus Ceratocystis fagacearum, is potentially the most destructive disease of both the red and white oaks. It is widely distributed throughout the Central States. White oak is less susceptible to oak wilt than the red oak species, and may lose only a limb at a time, or may sustain infection by the pathogen without ever showing symptoms (21).
Several other diseases of white oak seldom kill or cause much loss. Perennial cankers induced by bark diseases Strumella coryneoides and Nectria galligena are responsible for most of the losses in white oak particularly where ice and snow accumulation is common. Damage results from a weakening of the bole at the cankers with subsequent wind breakage. The trunk can become wholly or partially unmerchantable.
A root rot caused by the fungus Armillaria mellea attacks weakened trees. Root rot caused by Armillaria tabescens is similar and attacks oaks in the South. White root rot caused by Inonotus dryadeus is common on weak and suppressed trees.
The fungus Gnomonia veneta causes irregular brown areas on leaves and shoots. It may cause loss of some leaves and rarely, complete defoliation.
Oak leaf blister, caused by Taphrina caerulescens, is prevalent on eastern oaks, producing blisterlike swellings on the foliage.
White oak is moderately resistant to ice breakage, sensitive to flooding, and resistant to salt spray and brief salt-water submergence (21,28). It is sensitive to fire injury but less so than scarlet oak. Coal smoke and the resulting fly ash deposit on the soil surface substantially reduce white oak productivity (2,38).
Broad-scale Impacts of Plant Response to Fire
Postfire increases in white oak have been documented as follows after fire in a mixed hardwood community of Rhode Island : size class burned unburned density % BA % density % BA % overstory 42.7 23.40 23.6 27.60 1-10 ft. tall 42.4 ----- 17.0 ---- < 1 ft. tall 42.3 ----- 28.7 ----
The following Research Project Summaries and a Research Paper by Bowles and others 2007 provide information on managment using prescribed fire and postfire response of several plant species, including white oak, that was not available when this species review was written:
- Effects of surface fires in a mixed red and eastern white pine stand in Michigan
- Early postfire effects of a prescribed fire in the southern Appalachians of North Carolina
- Early postfire response of southern Appalachian Table Mountain-pitch pine stands to prescribed fires in North Carolina and Virginia
Fire Management Considerations
Prescribed fire can be an important tool for regenerating oak stands.
Fire may favor seedling establishment by creating suitable seedbeds and
reducing competing vegetation . A series of low-intensity
prescribed fires prior to timber harvest can promote advanced
regeneration . In the southern Appalachians, biennial summer burns
are often most effective in promoting advance regeneration .
Single preharvest or postharvest burns generally have little effect
Protein content of white oak browse was higher during the year following
low- and high-intensity burns . Calcium levels also tend to
increase in twigs on recently burned sites . Changes in nutritive
value after fire have been documented [11,12,36].
Plant Response to Fire
White oak commonly sprouts vigorously from the stump or root crown after
aboveground portions of the plant are damaged or killed [11,99].
Sprouting depends on such factors as plant vigor , genetic
composition, size, and fire severity and intensity. White oak probably
stump-sprouts after moderate fires , and when completely top-killed,
underground portions often regenerate . Hannah  reported that
the "best" sprouts often originate from buds located at or below ground
level. These sprouts may be more vigorous and less susceptible to rot
or other damage.
White oak seedlings generally sprout after fire, and in many instances,
numbers remain essentially unchanged . Damaged seedlings can often
resprout several times and may ultimately grow beyond the
fire-susceptible stage . Seedlings often develop an enlarged root
crown after frequent fires [11,42]. Sprouting ability typically
decreases with increasing d.b.h. . Pole-sized trees sprout readily
from stumps , but older, faster-growing, or taller trees often fail
to sprout .
Multiple sprouts, which resemble seedlings, commonly develop after fire
 and plant density is often increased. In the southern
Appalachians, Keetch  reported an average of six to seven sprouts
per clump 4 years after fire and 10 to 15 per clump 2 years after
several consecutive fires.
White oak generally responds quickly to release . Previously
suppressed individuals often grow rapidly into the understory soon after
fire . Initial postfire sprout growth is also rapid, and prolific
seed production occurs at an early age [10,14]. Sprouts are commonly
present within one growing season after fire .
Rouse  reported that most surviving oaks are "capable of minimizing
fire-caused losses due to damaged cambium by rerouting the functions of
fire-killed portions within weeks after a fire." Large oaks that
survive fire frequently serve as seed sources for burned areas ;
dying trees often produce a massive seed crop . Birds and mammals
may transport seeds from adjacent unburned areas, and seedling
establishment may occur.
Broad-scale Impacts of Fire
Oaks tend to be less susceptible to fire during the dormant season
. Mean white oak mortality after fires in the dormant season was
23 percent, as compared with 69 percent after fires occurring in the
growing season. Individuals of poor vigor are less likely to heal than
healthy vigorous specimens. Oaks growing in overstocked stands
typically are less vigorous and thus more susceptible to fire damage.
Crooked or leaning trees are particularly susceptible to damage because
the flames are more likely to be directly below the stem, thereby
increasing the amount of heat received at the bark's surface. Higher
fire intensity and severity increase mortality and serious injury.
Topographic factors such as aspect and slope can also influence
mortality . Fire mortality also varies with the size of the tree;
fire is more likely to kill smaller white oaks than large ones . A
fire in an oak-pine stand in New Jersey killed 44 percent of trees 1
inch in d.b.h., 5 percent of tree 2 to 4 inches in d.b.h., but no trees
greater than 5 inches in d.b.h. were killed .
Toole  reported that approximately 20 percent of white oaks
examined were uninjured by fire despite discolored bark. Bark sloughed
off wounded white oaks within 5 years . Following an early-season
fire in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, some white oaks exhibited
partial crown mortality later in the summer, while others showed no
evidence of significant crown damage . White oak is reportedly
susceptible to fire scars  which can permit the entry of insects or
decay that may ultimately kill the tree . However, Kaufert 
reported that 50 percent of all fire scars on white oak had healed
within 15 years in a southern bottomland forest . Studies suggest
that basal wounding does not affect growth rates .
Large white oaks can survive bark scorch up to two-thirds of their
circumferences . Mortality equations based on d.b.h., and the
width and height of bark blackening have been developed for white oak
[55,78,86]. These equations can be useful in predicting if a
fire-damaged oak will survive .
Immediate Effect of Fire
White oak is moderately resistant to fire [44,59]. Aerial portions may
be killed by fire , but underground regenerative structures
protected by overlying soil usually survive [10,76]. The rough, scaly
bark of white oak is more fire-resistant than the solid bark of many
other oaks . Oaks typically become more fire resistant as the bark
thickens with age .
Most oaks will survive periodic fires. In parts of the New Jersey Pine
Region, most white oaks 25 years and older possessed fire scars; four
fire scars were observed on a 65-year old tree . However, frequent
fires can damage or kill white oaks, and recurrent fires at less than
8-year intervals could eliminate white oak .
Approximately 76 percent of white oaks were killed following fire in a
loblolly pine stand in Virginia , and an estimated 56.5 percent were
killed after a fire in a New Jersey pine-oak community . Many of
the observed differences in susceptibility of oaks to fire can be
attributed to variation in fire severity and intensity, site
characteristics, plant age or size, form, vigor, season of burn, and
stocking levels .
Most acorns are characterized by a relatively high moisture content. As
the moisture within the acorns is heated, the seeds swell and often
rupture . Therefore, "average" fires kill all white oak acorns
present on-site .
survivor species; on-site surviving root crown or caudex
survivor species; on-site surviving roots
off-site colonizer; seeds carried by animals or water; postfire yr1&2
White oak is unable to regenerate beneath the shade of parent trees and
relies on periodic fires for its perpetuation. The exclusion of fire
has inhibited white oak regeneration through much of its range .
Following fire, white oak typically sprouts from the root crown or
stump. Some postfire seedling establishment may also occur on favorable
sites during favorable years.
Northeast and central states: Fire has played an important role in
deciduous forests of the eastern United States [100,128]. Evidence
suggests that most oaks (Quercus spp.) are favored by a regime of
relatively frequent fire. Many present-day oak forests may have
developed in response to recurrent fire. Declines of oak forests have
been noted throughout much of the East and are often attributed to
reduced fire frequency [2,7,100].
The Southeast: Fire was also a major influence in presettlement forests
of the Southeast [121,123]. In the southern Appalachians, many
present-day oak stands may have developed 60 to 100 years ago with
widespread burning associated with agricultural activities or timber
harvest. Increased fire suppression has evidently favored more
shade-tolerant hardwoods and resulted in a decrease in oaks .
Oak savannas: White oak formerly assumed importance in open oak
savannas of Wisconsin and Iowa, but with increased fire suppression,
fire-tolerant species such as white oak are being replaced by sugar
maple and other more shade-tolerant species. Many open savannas are
being converted to dense, forested stands [19,37].
More info for the terms: climax, codominant, hardwood, tree
White oak readily regenerates after disturbances such as fire or logging
and often assumes prominence in mid to late seral stages [2,61]. In the
North, white oak is commonly seral to sugar maple and other species
characteristic of mixed mesophytic stands . In much of its range,
it is succeeded by beech and other shade-tolerant species on
well-drained second bottoms and in protected coves . White oak is a
pioneer on frequently burned sites in southern Wisconsin , and in
Michigan, readily colonizes agricultural land 15 years after abandonment
. In much of the eastern deciduous woodlands, forests formerly
dominated by white oak, beech, red maple, yellow poplar, and northern
red oak are now being replaced by more shade-tolerant species such as
sugar maple and American basswood [8,91].
White oak cannot regenerate successfully beneath a dense canopy and in
many areas, grows in forests transitional to climax sugar maple or mixed
mesophytic forests [2,34]. Because of the longevity of white oak,
climax development proceeds very slowly . White oaks may persist on
exposed sites within climax stands .
White oak is considered a climax tree in oak-hickory stands in the
central and southern hardwood forest zone . It grows as a climax
dominant or codominant on certain lower elevation sites in the Smoky
Mountains  and occurs in climax pine-oak forests of New Jersey
. It also assumes importance in climax floodplain oak-hickory
forests of Tennessee . White oak is represented in mixed hardwood
old growth stands of northwestern Ohio . Old-growth oak-hickory
forests of southern Michigan , and in old-growth oak communities of
eastern Tennessee . Pine-oak forests cyclically replace
beech-magnolia forests after disturbance in parts of southeastern Texas
 and Louisiana.
White oak reproduces through seed and by vegetative means. Both modes
of regeneration appear to be important.
Seed: White oak produces good acorn crops at erratic intervals. Good
crops have been reported at 4- to 10-year  and at 3- to 5-year
intervals . Vigorous crowned trees greater than 20 inches d.b.h.
(51 cm) generally produce the best seed crops . Pollen, which is
produced in abundance, is dispersed by wind, but generally travels less
than 656 feet (200 m) [46,58]. Plants generally bear fruit between 50
and 200 years of age, but open-grown trees on good sites may produce
seed as early as 20 years of age [99,148]. Reproduction from seed can
occur when (1) large seed trees are present within 200 feet (61 m), (2)
litter cover is moderate, and (3) the site receives at least 35 percent
of full sunlight .
Seeds of white oak do not store well . Seed longevity is less than
1 year; white oak is not considered a seed banker . Viability in
storage declines from 90 percent for fresh seed to 7.0 percent for seed
stored for 6 months . Only 14 to 18 percent of the total seed
produced may be sound . Many acorns are damaged or destroyed by
insects  or bird and mammal seed predators. Several studies have
reported that animals consumed 72 to 83 percent of all white oak acorns
. In years of poor acorn production, the entire seed crop may be
Acorn production: Acorn production varies annually with the individual
tree or stand . Certain trees tend to produce larger acorn crops
on a consistent basis . Weather conditions, and tree size and vigor,
also influence acorn production. An individual oak 69 feet (21 m) tall
with a d.b.h. of 25 inches (63.5 cm) produced more than 23,000 acorns in
a favorable year . However, most forest-grown trees produce less
than 10,000 acorns annually. Annual yields may range from 0 to 202,000
acorns per acre (500,000/ha) . Acorn production may be reduced by
cool April temperatures  and drought .
Seed dispersal: In parts of Michigan, the blue jay is the primary
dispersal agent of white oak . Blue jays commonly exhibit a
preference for burying acorns in bare open areas which are well suited
for germination . Gray squirrels are also important dispersal
agents in many locations and are the only known long-distance disperser
[35,148]. The now-extinct passenger pigeon may have effected
long-distance dispersal of many eastern oaks . Wind and gravity
also aid in seed dispersal .
Germination: White oak acorns do not exhibit dormancy . In
storage, seeds germinate readily at temperatures of 33 to 37 degrees F
(1-3 deg C) . Under natural conditions, acorns begin germinating
soon after they fall . Acorns require a cover of litter for good
germination and seedling establishment . Acorns without such
protection are often damaged or killed by frost or drought .
Germination capacity ranges from 50 to 99 percent .
Seedling establishment: Seedling establishment is generally limited to
years of abundant acorn production . Light to moderate litter
cover and periods of full sunlight are required for establishment.
Establishment is best on loose soils .
Vegetative regeneration: White oak exhibits a number of modes of
vegetative regeneration. Vigorous sprouting from the stump or root
crown is commonly observed after fire, mechanical damage, and other
types of disturbance. Sprouting generally decreases with increasing
stem diameter , although trees up to 80 years of age occasionally
retain the ability to sprout . Small poles, saplings, and even
seedlings sprout readily if cut or burned . Stump-sprouting by
diameter class has been reported as follows :
d.b.h. (inches) percent of stumps likely to sprout
2 to 5 80
6 to 11 50
12 to 16 15
16 + 0
Repeated sprouting is commonly observed . Seedlings often develop
an "s"-shaped curve at ground level, which helps protect dormant buds
from fire . Root stools develop under the ground surface after
repeated fires or herbivory. These root stools, made up of callus
tissue filled with dormant buds, typically sprout vigorously in the
absence of further disturbance .
Seedling sprouts persist beneath the forest canopy even in the absence
of disturbance. Although the top dies back every few years, the root
system continues to develop and plants may persist for up to 90 years or
more . As the forest canopy is opened, the seedling sprouts grow
rapidly . Epicormic branches or water sprouts often develop from
dormant buds located on the boles [16,23]. Buds are stimulated to
sprout by sudden shifts in light intensity, partial removal of the
crown, and a loss of plant vigor . Bud dormancy in oaks is largely
controlled by auxins rather than by levels of carbohydrate reserves
. Apical dominance can restrict the development of belowground
buds when buds survive on aboveground portions of the plant. Sprouting
is reduced by low light levels  and decreases as the stand ages
. McIntyre  reported that the number of sprout groups decreases
from poor to good sites.
Silviculture: Oaks often regenerate poorly after timber harvest.
Hannah  reported that the use of natural seedbeds and standard
silvicultural practices are often ineffectual in promoting oak
regeneration. The presence of vigorous advanced regeneration is
essential for producing good stands of oaks after timber harvest
[29,88,102]. For adequate regeneration of oaks, advanced regeneration
of at least 4.5 feet (1.4 m) in height should number at least 435 per
acre (1,074/ha) prior to harvest [99,102]. A series of selection cuts
can produce stands with several age classes and can generate sufficient
advanced regeneration for well-stocked postharvest stands. Initial cuts
should reduce overstory densities to no less than 60 percent stocking
. Reduction of competing understory species may also be necessary
in some instances .
Mechanical treatment: Sprouts tend to be larger and taller when white
oaks are cut during the dormant season . Sprout growth by season
has been reported in detail .
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Reaction to Competition
Saplings and pole-size trees respond well to release. A 41 percent increase in diameter has resulted in young stands 1 year following release, and this trend has continued through the fourth year following release. Moreover, diameter growth of released trees for a 20-year period can be expected to be double that of nonreleased trees. Release significantly increases height growth only for those trees in the intermediate or suppressed crown classes. Young white oak sprout clumps thinned to one stem show a slightly greater diameter growth response over released single-stemmed trees (8,28,29). Such increases are possible when stands are heavily thinned, but the response becomes less dramatic as residual stand stocking increases. Other things being equal, however, the trees to release should be the large potential crop trees that show evidence of rapid recent growth.
Thinning combined with fertilization can boost 2-year diameter growth by 95 percent over unthinned and unfertilized pole-size white oak according to tests conducted in the Boston Mountains of Arkansas (19). The addition of nitrogen and calcium to soils in the Allegheny Plateau region of central Pennsylvania increased stand volume more than 40 percent (42).
White oak usually becomes dominant in the stand because of its ability to persist for long periods of time in the understory, its ability to respond well after release, and its great longevity. When associated with other oaks and hickory in the central and southern hardwood forests, white oak is considered a climax tree. On good sites in the north, it is usually succeeded by sugar maple. In the Ozark-Ouachita Highlands, white oak is climax on moderately dry to moist sites. In sheltered, moist coves and well-drained second bottoms throughout its range it may be succeeded by beech and other more tolerant species (10).
Most research and field experience suggest that even-aged silviculture is most suitable for white oak growing in pure or mixed hardwood stands. Although selection silviculture has been considered, it has been difficult to develop a sustainable stand structure without continual cultural treatments to restrain the more tolerant species, particularly on the better sites (34).
If oak advance reproduction is adequate, clearcutting is the recommended silvicultural system (32). if oak advance reproduction is scarce or absent, new seedlings need to be established. Some reduction of overstory density should help to stimulate seed production, but because of the periodicity of seed crops, it will probably take a long time to establish an adequate number of new seedlings. Seedlings can be planted under an overstory and allowed to develop. The overstory should be maintained at about 60 percent stocking and if competition from an existing understory will impair the growth of the planted seedlings, its density should be reduced. Planting oaks after clearcutting has generally been unsatisfactory because the planted seedlings do not grow fast enough to compete with new sprouts. Reducing both overstory and understory competition is likely to accelerate the growth of small oak advance reproduction. However, even with this increased growth, advance oak reproduction grows slowly and the development period may be from 10 to 20 years or longer.
Natural pruning of white oak is usually good in moderately to heavily stocked stands. Large dominant trees have cleaner boles than smaller trees in lower crown classes. Some branches along the trunk tend to persist when exposed to sunlight. Epicormic sprouting may be heavy on trees that have been grown in fully stocked stands for 20 years or more and then given sudden and heavy release (28). However, residual stand density and the vigor of trees may be more important to the persistence of epicormics than to their initiation following thinning (41). Significantly more epicormic branches have been observed on multiple-stemmed trees than on single-stemmed trees.
Live branches not more than 4 cm (1.5 in) in d.b.h. may be saw-pruned without danger of introducing rot. However, epicormic sprouts will often develop around the edges of the wound on saplings and small pole-size trees. Diameter growth of thinned and pruned trees may be 10 percent less than thinned but unpruned trees (35).
Root grafts between neighboring trees are common, especially under crowded conditions.
The ratio between the area of the root system and the area of the crown ranges from 3.4 to 1 to 5.8 to 1.
Following stand thinning, roots of released trees are capable of elongating at the rate of 0.24 m (0.8 ft) per year.
Root regeneration of young forest-grown seedlings may be hampered following top damage. A study of root regeneration of 1-0 white oak seedlings growing under greenhouse conditions has shown that new growth of seedlings whose shoot tops were pruned was 20 to 80 percent less than that of unpruned seedlings (12).
Life History and Behavior
Leaves begin to develop and new shoots are initiated in mid-March to
late May, depending on geographic location . The timing of bud
break is largely dependent on latitude  but also depends on soil
nutrient levels  and weather. Bell and others  observed delayed
budbreak on copper, lead, and zinc-mineralized sites. Most vegetative
growth takes place during the spring, with up to 50 percent of seedling
height growth attained in April . Fowells  reported that
seedling height growth was 90 percent complete by July 1. Plants may
become dormant in late fall, although leaves commonly persist into
Flowering generally occurs in spring when the new leaves are elongating
 but varies according to latitude, weather conditions, and with the
genetic composition of individual trees [99,104,105]. Flowering can
occur from late March to May  or June . In Pennsylvania,
pistillate catkins emerge in late April or May, approximately 5 to 10
days after the emergence of staminate flowers . Sharp and Chisman
 observed trees within the same population flowering early (May 5
to May 11) and late (May 13 to May 19). Three distinct waves of
flowering (early, middle, and late) have been reported. Warm weather
speeds up floral development, which begins after exposure to minimum
temperatures of 50 degrees F (10 deg C) for at least 10 days .
Pollen is generally shed within 3 days, but light winds can accelerate
shedding . Pollen shedding is often delayed by prolonged rainy
Acorns typically ripen approximately 120 days after pollination .
In Pennsylvania, embryos generally begin development after July 24, grow
rapidly by August 4, and reach full size by August 25 . Acorns
fall from the trees by September or October [99,105]. Generalized
flowering and fruit ripening dates by geographic location are as
Location Flowering Fruit ripe Authority
PA April-May ---- Sharp and Sprague 1967
NC, SC April Sept.-Nov. Radford and others 1968
New England May 21-June 3 ---- Seymour 1985
Blue Ridge Mtns. April-May ---- Wofford 1989
Adirondack Mtns. May Sept. Chapman & Besette 1990
nc Great Plains May Oct. Stephens 1973
WV ---- Oct. 3 Park 1942
D.b.h. classes Stumps likely to sprout cm in percent 5 to 14 2 to 5 80 14 to 29 6 to 11 50 29 to 42 12 to 16 15 42- 16- 0
Shoot elongation of stump sprouts increases with increasing stump diameter up to 15 cm (6 in) after which it declines. Annual height growth of stump sprouts when overstory competition is removed averages 0.7 ni (2.2 ft) (24).
Another source of vegetative reproduction is seedling sprouts. Seedling sprouts are stems with root systems that are several to many years older. These develop as a result of repeated dieback or mechanical damage.
In general, low stump sprouts from pole-size trees and seedling sprouts are about as good as trees grown from seed. However, sprouts originating high on the stump are likely to have heartwood decay (28).
The seedlings and seedling sprouts already present in a mature stand (advance reproduction), together with stump sprouts, regenerate the stand with oaks following overstory removal. Although many stands may have adequate numbers of stems, the size of the reproduction when the overstory is removed is the key to adequate growth and subsequent stocking (31). A minimum of 1,095 stems per hectare (443/acre) that are 1.37 m (4.5 ft) tall or taller is required to ensure a future stocking of at least 546 dominant and codominant oaks per hectare (221/acre) when average stand diameter is 7.6 cm (3 in) (33). Nevertheless, stands deficient in advance reproduction may be adequately stocked if a sufficient number of stumps sprout.
After germination, root growth continues until interrupted by cold weather. Broken radicles are replaced on freshly sprouted seeds. Root and shoot growth resumes in the spring, and after the first growing season, seedlings 7.6 to 10.2 cm (3 to 4 in) high normally develop a large taproot 6 to 13 mm (0.25 to 0.50 in) in diameter and more than 30.5 em (12 in) long.
Oak seedling establishment is best on loose soil because the radicle cannot penetrate excessively compact surfaces. A humus layer is especially important because it keeps the soil surface loose and porous and because it mechanically supports the acorn as the radicle penetrates the soil (28).
If climate and soil are favorable for germination, white oak reproduces adequately from seed when: (1) large seed trees are within about 61 m (200 ft); (2) litter cover is light to moderate (but not thick); and (3) light reaching seedling level is at least 35 percent of full sunlight. Reproduction is least abundant on moist sites that have a thick carpet of ferns and lesser vegetation (6). Seedlings persist more readily in open stands typical of dry exposures but can be maintained on moist sites if adequate sunlight reaches the forest floor.
Although important, soil moisture is probably not a critical factor in determining early seedling survival except under unusually dry conditions. At least one study has shown that when available soil moisture was 19 percent of oven dry soil weight, white oak seedling survival was 98 percent; at 3 percent available moisture, survival was 87 percent (28).
A Missouri study has shown that despite an adequate crop of sound acorns, the number of new white oak seedlings produced in any given year is low compared to other oaks, particularly black oak Quercus velutina). However, these individuals may persist in the understory for many years (90 years) by repeatedly dying back and resprouting. This phenomenon permits the gradual buildup of advance reproduction that is often taller and more numerous than the advance reproduction of associated oaks.
Under ideal growing conditions it is common for individual seedlings to grow 0.6 m (2 ft) or more a year. However, white oak seedlings established at the time of overstory removal normally grow too slowly to be of value in stand reproduction. Mean height of seedlings 10 years after overstory removal on sites with a site index of 13 to 19 in (43 to 63 ft) at base age 50 years in Missouri was slightly more than 0.6 m (2 ft) while seedling sprouts and stump sprouts averaged 4.9 and 6.4 m (16 and 21 ft), respectively (27).
Seed Production and Dissemination
Trees normally bear seeds between the ages of 50 and 200 years, sometimes older; however, opengrown trees may produce seeds as early as 20 years. Individual white oak trees tend to have either very good or very poor seed crops and are noticeably consistent in seed production from year to year (20,28,36,40). A recent study (13) showed that white oak flower production varies not only annually but also among trees within a given year and that much of the variation in acorn production can be related to flower abundance at the time of pollination. More than 23,000 acorns were produced during a good seed year by an individual white oak tree growing in Virginia; it was 69 years old, 63.5 cm (25 in) in d.b.h., and 21 in (69 ft) tall, and had a crown area of 145 m² (1,560 ft²) . Average production in good years for individual forest-grown trees, however, is probably no more than 10,000 acorns.
Several studies have shown that only a small portion of the total mature acorn crop (sometimes only 18 percent) is sound and fully developed; the remainder is damaged or destroyed by animals and insects (15,28,40). However, some damaged acorns germinate if the embryo is not damaged. Light acorn crops are often completely destroyed by animals and insects, so seedlings are produced only during heavy crop years.
Seeds are disseminated by rodents (chiefly squirrels and mice), gravity, and wind. The area seeded by individual trees is small and therefore widespread reproduction depends on adequate distribution of seedbearing trees.
Flowering and Fruiting
Acorn maturity is reached approximately 120 days after pollination. Acorn drop follows 25 days later and is complete within a month. Physiological maturity, as indicated by normal germination, is reached when acorns change color from green to light brown (4). Acorns germinate almost immediately after falling to the ground in September or October.
Growth and Yield
White oak generally has the reputation of being a slow-growing tree. According to growth averages from Forest Resources Evaluation data in the Central States, 10-year d.b.h. growth of white oak was 3.0 cm (1.20 in) for seedlings and saplings, 3.5 cm (1.37 in) for poles, and 4.7 cm (1.84 in) for sawtimber. These growth rates were slower than scarlet oak Quercus coccinea), northern red oak (Q. rubra), or black oak but faster than chestnut oak (Q. prinus). Among the non-oak species only hickory and beech had slower growth rates than white oak, while yellow-poplar, black walnut (Juglans nigra), white ash, and sugar maple all had faster growth rates than white oak (16).
Although white oak was once a component of mixed, uneven-aged stands, most white oaks today are in pure to mixed second growth stands of sprout origin. Individual trees may contain 5.7 m³ (1,000 fbm) or more of wood but this is uncommon. Pure and mixed unthinned stands at age 80 normally contain from 28 to 168 m³/ha (2,000 to 12,000 fbm/acre) of wood, occasionally more. Mean annual volume growth over a 60-year period in these stands ranges from 0.95 m³/ha on fair to poor sites to 2.2 m³/ha on good sites (68 fbm/acre to 156 fbm/acre) (17). Total volumes of fully stocked, even-aged stands of mixed oak have been reported to be 89.3 m³/ha (6,380 ft³/acre) at age 100 on site index 24.4 m (80 ft) sites; and merchantable volumes of 294 m³/ha (21,000 fbm/acre) have been found in stands on comparable sites in Wisconsin at age 100. However, such high volumes are rare and occur in localized areas (28).
Because oaks in general, and white oak specifically, are long-lived trees, rotation length can be long (120+ years). But rotation lengths can be shortened by as much as 50 percent and yields increased dramatically if stands are thinned early and regularly, particularly on good sites. If thinnings are begun at age 10 and stands rethinned to 60 percent stocking at 10-year intervals, volume yield at age 60 on good sites (264 m³/ha or 18,840 fbm/acre) is approximately double that in similar unthinned stands. Mean annual growth in such thinned stands is 3.9 m³/ha (279 fbm/acre) (17).
Throughout its range, site index for white oak is generally less than for yellow-poplar and other important oaks on the same site (26,28). White oak site index is approximately 1.2 ni (4 ft) less than black oak and 2.1 in (7 ft) less than scarlet oak. On all sites the index for white oak is higher than that for shortleaf pine. And on the poorest sites, the index for white oak is higher than that for yellow-poplar.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Seven hybrids are recognized: Quercus x jackiana Schneid. (Q. alba x bicolor); Q. x bebbiana Schneid. (Q. alba x macrocarpa); Q. x beadlei Trel. (Q. alba x michauxii); Q. x faxonii Trel. (Q. alba x prinoides); Q. x saulli Schneid. (Q. alba x prinus); Q. x fernowii Trel. (Q. alba x stellata); Q. x bimundorum Palmer (Q. alba x- robur).
White oak also hybridizes with the following: Durand oak (Quercus durandii), overcup oak (Q. lyrata), and chinkapin oak (Q. muehlenbergii).
Quercus alba naturally hybridizes with Q. macrocarpa (Q. x bebbiana), Q. muehlenbergii (Q. x deamii), and Q. montana (Q. x saulei).
[from vPlants.org, accessed 7 January 2009]
Barcode data: Quercus alba
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Quercus alba
Public Records: 6
Specimens with Barcodes: 8
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - 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 (e.g. threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).
Pests and potential problems
White oak is attacked by several insects: leaf eaters including gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), orangestriped oakworm (Anisota senatoria), oakleaf caterpillar (Heterocampa manteo), oak leaf tiers (Psilocorsis spp.) and walkingstick (Diapheromera femorata); Golden oak scale (Asterolecanium variolosum); gall forming insects like Cynipid wasps; and twig pruners, but none of these pose serious insect problems. White oak is also susceptible to perennial cankers induced by bark diseases like Strumella coryneoides and Nectria galligena; root rot caused by Armillaria mellea, Armillaria tabescens and Inonotus dryadeus; irregular brown areas on leaves and shoots caused by Gnomonia veneta; and oak blister caused by Taphrina caerulescens. The species has good resistance to oak wilt.
Existing trees are very sensitive to disturbances in their root zones caused by grading, soil compaction, or changes in drainage patterns; if severe, these disturbances can lead to mortality.
herbicide treatments .
Damage: White oak can be damaged by frost or drought. It is also
sensitive to periodic flooding .
Environmental considerations: White oak is sensitive to excessive ozone
Grazing: Intensive grazing can reduce the number of trees present and
aid in the regeneration of white oak through seed .
Wildlife considerations: Acorns are a particularly important food
source for black bears in many areas. Acorn crop failures have been
correlated with increases in damage to crops, livestock, and beehives by
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
Seeds are commercially available at forest seed companies.
White oak is generally classified as intermediate in its tolerance to shade. Its tolerance decreases as a tree becomes older and larger. Thinning combined with fertilization can boost diameter growth. White oak usually becomes dominant because of its ability to persist for long periods of time in the understory, its ability to respond well after thinning, and its great longevity. Even-aged silviculture is most suitable if oaks are growing in pure or mixed hardwood stands. Reducing both overstory and understory competition is likely to accelerate the growth of seedlings.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Wildlife: Acorns are eaten by squirrels, blue jays, crows, red-headed woodpeckers, deer, turkey, quail, mice, chipmunks, ducks and raccoons.
Timber: White oak’s wood is strong and durable for staves for barrels, lumber, flooring, and interior woodwork.
Recreation and Beautification: White oak is an excellent ornamental tree because of its broad round crown, dense foliage, and purplish-red to violet-purple fall color.
Uses: MEDICINE/DRUG, Building materials/timber
Other uses and values
Acorns were traditionally an important food source for many Native
American peoples . White oak acorns have been described variously
as sweet and edible  and as slightly bitter . The acorns were
often boiled to remove bitter tannins . Oils obtained from pressed
acorns were used to alleviate pain in the joints .
White oak is commonly used in landscaping  and is often planted as
a shade tree or ornamental [43,148. Its colorful purplish-red to
violet-purple foliage enhances its ornamental value in autumn [125,148].
White oak was first cultivated in 1724 .
White oak provides good cover for a wide variety of birds and mammals.
Oak leaves often persist longer than many other plant associates and in
some areas, young oaks may represent the only brushy winter cover in
dense pole stands . Oaks frequently serve as perching or nesting
sites for various songbirds . The well-developed crowns provide
shelter and hiding cover for small mammals such as tree squirrels. Many
birds and mammals use twigs and leaves as nesting materials . Large
oaks provide denning sites for a variety of mammals .
Browse: The nutritional value of white oak browse varies
geographically, and with site history and phenological development.
Annual variation has also been observed . Foliar nitrogen content
was measured at 1.40 percent in Tennessee but averaged only 0.7 percent
in New York . The calcium content of leaves tends to increase
slowly as the growing season progresses . Calcium levels of twigs,
and protein and phosphorus content of the foliage, are generally higher
on recently burned sites [12,15,40]. Total solids, ash, ether extract,
crude fiber, and N-free extract appear to be unaffected by fire .
[see Fire Management Considerations]. Winter nutrient content of white
oak browse in Texas has been documented as follows :
protein fat fiber N-free ash phosphoric Ca
percent at 15 percent moisture
3.89 1.46 34.22 42.43 3.00 0.13 1.67
Acorns: Acorns are nutritious  and high in carbohydrates .
White oak acorns are relatively low in protein, crude fiber, and
potassium [16,123,142] but high in digestible cell contents such as
fats, starches, sugars, and pectins . White oak acorns tend to be
lower in fats than the acorns of many other oak species . Primary
stored energy reserves are in the form of carbohydrates . Specific
nutritional values are reported below [123,124]:
crude crude crude Si Ca P ash N-free
protein fat fiber extract
percent dry weight -
5.9 4.3 18.7 0.01 0.15 0.09 --- ---
4.6 5.8 18.6 0.06 0.18 0.09 2.7 68.3
Tannin levels of white oak acorns are relatively low, generally ranging
from 0.5 to 2.5 percent . Lipid concentrations are also low,
averaging 5 to 10 percent . However, Lewis  reported tannin
and lipid levels of 2.94 and 4.6 percent, respectively. Metabolizable
energy content has been estimated at 72 percent .
Taproot: The taproot of white oak is high in fibers, lignin, and
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
Browse: The young shoots of many eastern oak species are readily eaten
by deer . Dried oak leaves are also occasionally eaten by
white-tailed deer in the fall or winter . Rabbits often browse
twigs and can girdle stems . The porcupine feeds on the bark, and
beavers eat twigs of white oaks .
Acorns: Acorns of white oak are considered choice food for many
wildlife species , including the white-footed mouse, fox squirrel,
black bear, pine mouse, red squirrel, and cottontail rabbits
[22,27,135]. The gray squirrel consumes white oak acorns but prefers
the acorns of other oak species . Many birds, including the
bluejay, northern bobwhite, mallard, ring-necked pheasant, greater
prairie chicken, ruffed grouse, and wild turkey, eat white oak acorns
[60,66,135]. In some areas, the abundance of fall mast crops, such as
acorns, can affect black bear reproductive success during the following
year . Sprouted acorns are often eaten by deer, mice, and bobwhite
Wood Products Value
White oak wood is heavy, hard, strong, and durable . When properly
dried treated, oak wood glues well, machines very well and accepts a
variety of finishes .
White oak is the most important timber oak and is commercially important
throughout much of the South and East [35,141,148]. White oak is an
important source of wood for furniture, veneer, paneling, and flooring
[28,95,101]. It has been used to make railroad ties, fenceposts, mine
timbers, ships, and caskets . White oak has long been used in
cooperage  and is currently the major source of wood for whiskey
barrels . White oak wood has also been used as a source of
clapboard shingles and woven baskets, although demands for these
products are decreasing . Its high fuel value makes white oak an
attractive firewood .
Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites
and appears to have potential for use on other types of disturbed sites.
It has been planted on strip-mined lands in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois
[6,23,81] and has exhibited good growth and survival on cast overburden
and graded topsoil overlying mine spoils [6,139]. It is well adapted to
loamy and clayey spoils with a pH of 5.5 to 8.0 .
White oak is difficult to transplant and grows slowly . It can be
readily propagated through seed which is generally planted in the fall
. Seed collection, storage, and planting techniques have been
and for many wildlife species . Eastern oaks are preferred by
white-tailed deer in some locations . New growth is particularly
palatable to deer and rabbits .
The acorns of most oaks are highly palatable to many species of birds
and mammals [57,90]. Palatability of white oak acorns to fox squirrels,
and presumably to some other species, declines after the acorns have
White oak is sometimes planted as an ornamental tree because of its broad round crown, dense foliage, and purplish-red to violet-purple fall coloration. It is less favored than red oak because it is difficult to transplant and has a slow growth rate.
Quercus alba, the state tree of Illinois, is one of the most important lumber trees in the United States. Prior to the use of steel, its wood was used to build United States Navy ships. It is still used for furniture, cabinets, and flooring, however, some faster growing red oak species have replaced it.
[from vPlants.org, accessed 7 January 2009]
Quercus alba, the white oak, is one of the pre-eminent hardwoods of eastern North America. It is a long-lived oak of the family Fagaceae, native to eastern North America and found from southern Quebec west to eastern Minnesota and south to northern Florida and eastern Texas. Specimens have been documented to be over 450 years old.
Although called a white oak, it is very unusual to find an individual specimen with white bark; the usual color is a light gray. In the forest it can reach a magnificent height and in the open it develops into a massive broad-topped tree with large branches striking out at wide angles.
Normally not a very tall tree, typically reaching 80–100 feet at maturity, it nonetheless becomes quite massive and its lower branches are apt to extend far out laterally, parallel to the ground. Trees growing in a forest will become much taller than ones in an open area which develop to be short and massive. The tallest known white oak is 144 feet (43 m) tall. It is not unusual for a white oak tree to be as wide as it is tall, but specimens growing at high altitudes may only become small shrubs. White oak may live 200–300 years, with some even older specimens known. The famous Wye Oak in Wye Mills, Maryland was estimated to be over 450 years old when it finally toppled over in a thunderstorm in 2002. Sexual maturity begins at around 20 years, but the tree does not produce large crops of acorns until its 50th year and the amount varies from year to year. Acorns deteriorate quickly after ripening, the germination rate being only 10% for six-month-old seed and as they are prime food for animals and insects, in years of a small crop, all of them may be lost. The bark is a light ash-gray and peels somewhat from the top, bottom and/or sides.
In spring the young leaves are of a delicate, silvery pink and covered with a soft, blanket-like down. The petioles are short, and the leaves which cluster close to the ends of the shoots are pale green and downy with the result that the entire tree has a misty, frosty look. This condition continues for several days, passing through the opalescent changes of soft pink, silvery white and finally yellow green.
The leaves grow to be 5-8.5 inches long and 2.75-4.5 inches wide and have a deep glossy green upper surface. They usually turn red or brown in autumn, but depending on climate, site, and individual tree genetics, some trees are nearly always red, or even purple in autumn. Some brown, dead leaves may remain on the tree throughout winter until very early spring. The lobes can be shallow, extending less than halfway to the midrib, or deep and somewhat branching. The acorns are usually sessile, and grow to 0.5-1 inch in length, falling in early October.
- Bark: Light gray, varying to dark gray and to white; shallow fissured and scaly. Branchlets at first bright green, later reddish-green and finally light gray. A distinguishing feature of this tree is that a little over halfway up the trunk the bark tends to form overlapping scales that are easily noticed and aid in identification.
- Wood: Light brown with paler sapwood; strong, tough, heavy, fine-grained and durable. Specific gravity, 0.7470; weight of one cubic foot, 46.35 lbs; weight of one cubic meter 770 kg.
- Winter buds: Reddish brown, obtuse, one-eighth of an inch long.
- Leaves: Alternate, five to nine inches long, three to four inches wide. Obovate or oblong, seven to nine-lobed, usually seven-lobed with rounded lobes and rounded sinuses; lobes destitute of bristles; sinuses sometimes deep, sometimes shallow. On young trees the leaves are often repand. They come out of the bud conduplicate, are bright red above, pale below, and covered with white tomentum; the red fades quickly and they become silvery greenish white and shiny; when full grown they are thin, bright yellow green, shiny or dull above, pale, glaucous or smooth below; the midrib is stout and yellow, primary veins are conspicuous. In late autumn the leaves turn a deep red and drop, or on young trees remain on the branches throughout the winter. Petioles are short, stout, grooved, and flattened. Stipules are linear and caducous.
- Flowers: appear in May, when leaves are one-third grown. Staminate flowers are borne in hairy aments two and a half to three inches long; the calyx is bright yellow, hairy, six to eight-lobed, with lobes shorter than the stamens; anthers are yellow. Pistillate flowers are borne on short peduncles; involucral scales are hairy, reddish; calyx lobes are acute; stigmas are bright red.
- Acorns: Annual, sessile or stalked; nut ovoid or oblong, round at the apex, light brown, shining, three-quarters to an inch long; cup-shaped, enclose about one-fourth of the nut, tomentose on the outside, tuberculate at base, scales with short obtuse tips becoming smaller and thinner toward the rim. White oak acorns (referring to Q. alba and all its close relatives) have no epigeal dormancy and germination begins readily without any treatment. In most cases, the oak root sprouts in the fall, with the leaves and stem appearing the next spring. The acorns take only one growing season to develop unlike the red oak group, which require two years for maturation.
Quercus alba, the white oak, is fairly tolerant of a variety of habitats, and may be found on ridges, in valleys, and in between, in dry and moist habitats, and in moderately acid and alkaline soils. It is mainly a lowland tree, but reaches altitudes of 5,249 ft in the Appalachian Mountains. It is often a component of the forest canopy in an oak-heath forest.
The tree's acorns were used for food by Native Americans.
Quercus Alba is cultivated as an ornamental tree somewhat infrequently due to its slow growth and ultimately huge size. It is not tolerant of urban pollution and road salt and due to its large taproot, is unsuited for a street tree or parking strips/islands.
White oak has tyloses that give the wood a closed cellular structure, making it water- and rot-resistant. Because of this characteristic, white oak is used by coopers to make wine and whiskey barrels as the wood resists leaking. It has also been used in construction, shipbuilding, agricultural implements, and in the interior finishing of houses.
White oak is used extensively in Japanese martial arts for some weapons, such as the bokken and jo. It is valued for its density, strength, resiliency and relatively low chance of splintering if broken by impact, relative to the substantially cheaper red oak.
USS Constitution is made of white oak and southern live oak, and reconstructive wood replacement of white oak parts comes from a special grove of Quercus alba known as the "Constitution Grove" at Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division.
The acorns are much less bitter than the acorns of red oaks. They are small relative to most oaks, but are a valuable wildlife food, notably for turkeys, wood ducks, pheasants, grackles, jays, nuthatches, thrushes, woodpeckers, rabbits, squirrels, and deer. The white oak is the only known food plant of the Bucculatrix luteella and Bucculatrix ochrisuffusa caterpillars.
The young shoots of many eastern oak species are readily eaten by deer. Dried oak leaves are also occasionally eaten by white-tailed deer in the fall or winter. Rabbits often browse twigs and can girdle stems.
Barrels made of American white oak are commonly used for oak aging of wine, in which the wood is noted for imparting strong flavors. Also, by federal regulation, bourbon whiskey must be aged in charred new oak (generally understood to mean specifically American white oak) barrels.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (November 2013)|
White oak has served as the official state tree of Illinois after selection by a vote of school children. There are two "official" white oaks serving as state trees, one located on the grounds of the governor's mansion, and the other in a schoolyard in the town of Rochelle. The white oak is also the state tree of Connecticut and Maryland. The Wye Oak, probably the oldest living white oak until it fell because of a thunderstorm on June 6, 2002, was the honorary state tree of Maryland.
Being the subject of a legend as old as the colony itself, the Charter Oak of Hartford, Connecticut is one of the most famous white oaks in America. An image of the tree now adorns the reverse side of the Connecticut state quarter.
Grandinin/roburin E, castalagin/vescalagin, gallic acid, monogalloyl glucose (glucogallin) and valoneic acid dilactone, monogalloyl glucose, digalloyl glucose, trigalloyl glucose, ellagic acid rhamnose, quercitrin and ellagic acid are phenolic compounds found in Q. alba.
- Creek Council Oak Tree
- Linden Oak, possibly the largest living white oak in the United States
- Central and southern Appalachian montane oak forest
- "Quercus alba", NatureServe Explorer (NatureServe), retrieved 2007-07-06
- Keeler, Harriet L. (1900). Our Native Trees and How to Identify Them. New York: Charles Scriber's Sons. pp. 328–332. ISBN 0-87338-838-0.
- Tirmenstein, D. A. (1991). "Quercus alba". Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Retrieved 2013-05-08.
- Niche Timbers White Oak
- The Natural Communities of Virginia Classification of Ecological Community Groups (Version 2.3), Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, 2010
- Schafale, M. P. and A. S. Weakley. 1990. Classification of the natural communities of North Carolina: third approximation. North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.
- "Materials on USS Constitution". San Francisco National Maritime Park Association. Retrieved 2011-07-24.
- Houston, David R. 1971. Noninfectious diseases of oaks. In: Oak symposium: Proceedings; 1971 August 16–20; Morgantown, WV. Upper Darby, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station: 118-123. 
- Van Lear, David H.; Johnson, Von J. 1983. Effects of prescribed burning in the southern Appalachian and upper Piedmont forests: a review. Forestry Bull. No. 36. Clemson, SC: Clemson University, Collage of Forest and Recreation Resources, Department of Forestry. 8 p. 
- D. Sogg "White Wines, New Barrels: The taste of new oak gains favor worldwide" Wine Spectator July 31, 2001
- "27 C.F.R. sec 5.22(l)(1)". Ecfr.gpoaccess.gov. Retrieved 2013-06-21.
- Analysis of oak tannins by liquid chromatography-electrospray ionisation mass spectrometry. Pirjo Mämmelä, Heikki Savolainenb, Lasse Lindroosa, Juhani Kangasd and Terttu Vartiainen, Journal of Chromatography A, Volume 891, Issue 1, 1 September 2000, Pages 75-83, doi:10.1016/S0021-9673(00)00624-5
In the past Quercus alba was considered to be the source of the finest and most durable oak lumber in America for furniture and shipbuilding. Now it has been replaced almost entirely in commerce by various species of eastern red oak (e.g., Q . rubra , Q . velutina , and Q . falcata ) that are more common and have faster growth and greater yields. These red oaks also lack tyloses and therefore are more suited to pressure treating with preservatives, even though they are less decay-resistant without treatment.
Medicinally, Quercus alba was used by Native Americans to treat diarrhea, indigestion, chronic dysentery, mouth sores, chapped skin, asthma, milky urine, rheumatism, coughs, sore throat, consumption, bleeding piles, and muscle aches, as an antiseptic, and emetic, and a wash for chills and fevers, to bring up phlegm, as a witchcraft medicine, and as a psychological aid (D. E. Moerman 1986).
Numerous hybrids between Quercus alba and other species of white oak have been reported, and some have been named. J. W. Hardin (1975) reviewed the hybrids of Quercus alba . Nothospecies names based on putative hybrids involving Q . alba include: Q . × beadlei Trelease (= Q . alba × prinus ), Q . × bebbiana Schneider (= Q . alba × macrocarpa ), Q . × bimundorum E. J. Palmer (= Q . alba × robur ), Q . × deami Trelease (= Q . alba × muhlenbergii ), Q . × faxoni Trelease (= Q . alba × prinoides ), Q . × jackiana Schneider (= Q . alba × bicolor ), and Q . × saulei Schneider (= Q . alba × montana ).
Names and Taxonomy
The currently accepted scientific name of white oak is Quercus alba L.
. It is a member of the order Fagales and has been placed within
the white oak subgenus (Lepidobalanus) . Three varieties of white
oak are commonly recognized :
Quercus alba var. alba
Quercus alba var. repanda Michx.
Quercus alba var. latiloba Sarg.
Some authorities recognize these entities as forms rather than varieties
White oak is highly variable genetically , and many forms and
ecotypes have been described. According to Fowells , "no definite
races have been defined, but within such a tremendously diverse habitat,
climatic races undoubtedly exist." White oak readily hybridizes with
many other species within the genus Quercus , including swamp white
oak (Q. bicolor), bur oak (Q. macrocarpa), chinkapin oak (Q.
muehlenbergi), dwarf chinkapin oak (Q. prinoides), overcup oak (Q.
lyrata), swamp chestnut oak (Q. michauxii), sandpost oak (Q.
margaretta), chestnut oak (Q. prinus), English oak (Q. robur), Durand
oak (Q. durandii), and post oak (Q. stellata) [58,83]. Hybrids, their
common names, and purported origins are listed below [69,148].
Beadle oak X beadlei Trel. (Quercus alba x michauxii)
Bebb oak X bebbiana (Q. alba x Q. macrocarpa)
X bimundorum Palmer (Q. alba x Q. robur)
Deam oak X deamii (Q. alba x Q. muehlenbergi)
Faxon oak X faxonii Trel. (Q. alba x Q. prinoides)
Fernow oak X fernowii Trel. (Q. alba x Q. stellata)
Jack oak X jackiana Schneid. (Q. alba x Q. montana)
Saul oak X saulii Schneid. (Q. alba x Q. prinus)
Saul oak was formerly known as Q. alba f. ryderii but is now considered
a heterozygous hybrid form of white oak .
Introgressive populations are locally common throughout much of the
range of white oak. Hybrid swarms derived from complex mixtures of
parental forms are particularly common on disturbed sites, at the
margins of white oak's range, and where several oak species occur
ridge white oak
forked-leaf white oak
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