White Oak, A Common Tree in North America

Quercus alba, A Top 100 Common Tree in North America

The Keeler Oak Tree (White Oak Quercus alba) in Burlington County, New Jersey

Msact / Wikimedia Commons / CC by SA 3.0

White oak is included in a group of oaks categorized by that same name. Other white oak family members include the bur oak, chestnut oak and Oregon white oak. This oak is immediately recognized by rounded lobes; the lobe tips never have bristles like red oak. Considered the most majestic tree of the eastern hardwoods, the tree is also touted as having the best all-purpose wood. Read below for specific botanical features.

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The Silviculture of White Oak

white oak acorn with greenish tint out of shell among dead leaves

Chris Light / Wikimedia Commons / CC by SA 4.0

Acorns are a valuable though inconsistent source of wildlife food. More than 180 different kinds of birds and mammals use oak acorns as food. 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.

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White Oak Taxonomy

ground view looking up at WHITE OAK (QUERCUS ALBA) tree trunk with green leaves

Adamantios / Wikimedia Commons / CC by SA 3.0

The tree is a hardwood and the lineal taxonomy is Magnoliopsida > Fagales > Fagaceae > Quercus alba L. White oak is also commonly called stave oak.

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The Range of White Oak

map showing native range of white oak tree in SE United States

Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

White oak grows throughout most of the Eastern United States. It is found from southwestern Maine and extreme southern Quebec, west to southern Ontario, central Michigan, to southeastern Minnesota; south to western Iowa, eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas; east to northern Florida and Georgia. The tree is generally absent in the high Appalachians, in the Delta region of the lower Mississippi, and in the coastal areas of Texas and Louisiana.

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White Oak Leaves


Ed Reschke / Getty Images

Leaf: Alternate, simple, oblong to ovate in shape, 4 to 7 inches long; 7 to 10 rounded, finger-like lobes, sinus depth varies from deep to shallow, apex is rounded and the base is wedge-shaped, green to blue-green above and whitish below.

Twig: Red-brown to somewhat gray, even a bit purple at times, hairless and often shiny; multiple terminal buds are red-brown, small, rounded (globose) and hairless.

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Fire Effects on White Oak

historical photograph of a fire scar on a white oak tree

Courtesy of National Archives Catalog

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.