Identifying the Willow Oak Tree

Learn how to identify a willow oak on your next walk through nature.

Giant Willow Oak
Caytlin Endicott / Getty Images

Willow oak (Quercus phellos) is a deciduous, common oak tree. A member of the red oak family, this tree has a dense, usually rounded crown and simple, linear leaves.

Willow oak trees are generally found in certain southeastern areas of the United States—as north as New Jersey and Pennsylvania and as west as Texas and Arkansas. It can be grown under the right conditions in USDA Zones 5-9. Here, we'll explain how to identify a willow oak tree and how to keep one thriving in your area.

Scientific Name  Quercus phellos  
Common Names  Swamp willow, pin oak, peach oak 
Habitat  States along the East Coast, beginning in New York and New Jersey and ending in parts of Florida. Can be found in southern states as west as eastern Texas. 
Description  Grey bark at maturity; simple and spear-shaped leaves with bristles on tips; thrives in well-draining acidic soil.  
Uses  Acorn crop supports wildlife in area 

Description and Identification

Willow oak trees also go by the names swamp willow, pin oak, and peach oak. These trees can grow up to 100 feet tall but are often shorter, between 50 and 80 feet. The crown branches outward in a cone shape during growth and rounds out when it reaches maturity.

The bark of a younger willow oak tree is often smooth and light reddish-brown. As the tree matures, the bark will grow greyer, and the texture rougher.

The leaves are simple and spear-shaped, with small bristles on the tips. During the spring, they are often bright green. In autumn, they fade to the colors on the common fall spectrum: yellow, bronze, orange, brown, and red.

Willow oaks produce acorns after about 20 years of maturing. They typically fruit and fall in the later summer and early.

Native Range and Growing Conditions

Willow oak thrives in most southeastern states, from New Jersey to Florida and many of the states in between. It is also in the south-most states as far west as eastern Texas. You can often find this tree in bottomlands, meaning nearby a river.

The most important soil qualities are high moisture and well-draining. Willow oak also responds well to slightly acidic soil and thrives in full sun.

Lookalikes

Shingle oak (Quercus imbricaria) might be mistaken for a willow oak tree because of its similarly shaped leaves; both are red oak varieties. The key difference is to look out for the leaf width; shingle oak leaves are typically about an inch wider than willow oak leaves.

Uses

Because willow oak produces an acorn crop almost every year, this oak is important for wildlife food production. In turn, this makes it a great species to plant along the margins of fluctuating-level reservoirs. The acorn is a favorite food for ducks and deer.

Willow oak is also a source of lumber and wood pulp. It is sometimes grown in hardwood plantations since it provides a combination of pulping characteristics and a high rate of growth. It is not, however, a preferred oak for high-quality grade lumber.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How fast do willow oak trees grow?

    Willow oak is considered a moderately fast-growing tree and can reach anywhere from 50 to 100 feet tall.

  • Do willow oak trees have acorns?

    Yes, willow oak trees produce about half-inch-long acorns, which mature between the end of summer and early fall.