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Quercus alba is often confused with:
Quercus bicolor Habit
Quercus robur Form
Plants that fill a similar niche:
Quercus falcata Tree form (Greensboro, NC)-Mid Fall
Quercus nigra Quercus nigra
Quercus coccinea Form
Quercus alba has some common insect problems:
Oak Pest Management Calendar
Common Insect Pests of Oak in North Carolina
Quercus alba has some common disease problems:
Common Disease Pests of Oak in North Carolina

Eastern White Oak Quercus alba

Phonetic Spelling
KWER-kus AL-ba
This plant has low severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

The white oak is a large deciduous, hardwood tree is slow growing and can reach heights of 135 feet with an 80-foot spread but generally tops out at 80 to 100 feet. Young trees are typically pyramidal in form, but as the tree matures it has a rounded and broad crown. The distinct feature of this tree is its fingerlike lobed leaves with rounded tips and no bristles. Their fall foliage color is dark reddish to brown. The male flowers are the showiest, and the female flowers are inconspicuous. The fruit is a 3/4- to 1-inch-long brown acorn with a lumpy cap. This tree is a member of the Fagaceae or beech family and is the most important lumber tree of the white oak group.

The white oak is a native to the eastern United States and is usually found in forested areas of dry slopes, valleys, and ravines.

The genus name, Quercus, is the Latin name for oak trees. The epithet, alba, means white. This refers to the bark's ash-gray bark color. The common name is a reference to the color of the finished wood, not the bark.  

The white oak prefers full sun to partial shade in coarse, deep, moist, well-drained, loamy, slightly acidic soil but is adaptable to other soil types and is fairly drought tolerant once established. Wet sites should be avoided. The deep taproot makes it difficult to transplant. The tree is propagated by seeds.

The bark is light ashy gray with vertical blocks and scales. The lobed and rounded tip leaves are green on the upper surface and glaucous beneath. The male flowers are pendulous yellowish-green chains that occur in clusters. The reddish female flowers appear on short stalks about 5 to 10 days after the male flowers. Both emerge shortly after the leaves in the spring. The female flower produces the acorn which is initially green and ripens to a tannish brown. 

This is a long-lived tree is a prolific supporter of wildlife for food and habitat. It supports a wide variety of butterflies and moths plus small mammals and songbirds. The acorns of white oak are edible (to humans) after tannins are leached or boiled out.  

Use white oak as a shade tree for large yards or parks, or in a naturalized area for wildlife to enjoy. It is suitable for butterfly, children’s, drought-tolerant, edible, native, nighttime, and pollinator gardens. However, it should not be planted near structures or pavement due to its eventual size. It is also toxic to horses.

Seasons of Interest:

Bark:  Winter         Foliage:  Spring, Summer, and Fall               Fruits:  Fall

Quick ID Hints:

  • deciduous tree, pyramidal in youth, broad, rounded with age
  • light ashy gray scaly bark with vertical block and scales
  • the leaves are green, elliptic with rounded or fingerlike lobes without bristles
  • pinnately lobed leaves with entire margins, widest typically at the middle, glaucous on the undersides
  • male flowers prominent pendulous long yellowish-green chains arranged in clusters
  • reddish female flowers appear on stalks and are smaller and less showy
  • fruits are 3/4- to 1-inch-long acorns, initially green and ripen to tan, brown with a lumpy cap that covers 1/4 to 1/3 of the nut

Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems:  Numerous insect and disease pests, but the damage is rarely significant. The white oak is susceptible to oak wilt, anthracnose, cankers, leaf spots, powdery mildew, and oak leaf blister. Potential pests include scales, oak skeletonizer, leaf miners, aphids, galls, and lace bugs. Chlorosis can occur if the pH in the soil is too high, resulting in iron deficiency. White oak is sensitive to soil compaction and susceptible to wind damage. It can be messy.

VIDEO Created by Elizabeth Meyer for "Trees, Shrubs and Conifers" a plant identification course offered in partnership with Longwood Gardens.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscapes:
Mountain Ridge Top Garden - East Lawn and Lower Drive Border Mountain Ridge Top Garden - North Lawn and Upper Drive Border Mountain Ridge Top Garden - West Lawn and Border Mountain Ridge Top Garden - North Lawn and Upper Drive Border Mountain Ridge Top Garden - North Woods Mountain Ridge Top Garden - North Lawn and Upper Drive Border Mountain Ridge Top Garden - West Lawn and Border Mountain Ridge Top Garden - North Lawn and Upper Drive Border
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
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Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#shade tree#poisonous#full sun tolerant#heat tolerant#drought tolerant#wildlife plant#native tree#moths#nectar plant#cover plant#spring flowers#tsc#fall interest#small mammals#food source wildlife#cpp#fire low flammability#NC native#black bears#deer resistant#woodpeckers#blue jays#acorns#nighttime garden#children's garden#playground plant#edible fruits#pollinator plant#Braham Arboretum#fantz#larval host plant#food source fall#food source herbage#rocky soils tolerant#clay soils tolerant#bird friendly#dry soils tolerant#food source hard mast fruit#fall color red#butterfly friendly#moth larvae#FACU Piedmont Mountains#Coastal FACU#partial shade tolerant#tsc-t#problem for horses#black walnut toxicity tolerant#Audubon#wind damage prone#banded hairstreak butterfly#gray hairstreak butterfly#imperial moth#juvenal’s duskywing butterfly#edward’s hairstreak butterfly#white-m hairstreak butterfly#horace’s duskywing butterfly#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Quercus
    Species:
    alba
    Family:
    Fagaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Hardwood timber is used for flooring, woodwork, wine barrels, or whisky barrels. Ships were built from the timber in the colonial period. The acorns were used by Native Americans for medications.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    South East Canada to Central & Eastern U.S.A
    Distribution:
    Native: United States--AL, AR, CT, DE, FL, GA, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, NE, NH, NJ, NY, NC, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VT, VA, WV, and WI; Canada--Ontario and Quebec. Introduced: Leeward Islands
    Fire Risk Rating:
    low flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    Oak trees support a wide variety of Lepidopteran. You may see Imperial Moth (Eacles imperialis) larvae which have one brood per season and appear from April-October in the south. Adult Imperial Moths do not feed. Banded Hairstreak (Satyrium calanus), which have one flight from June-August everywhere but Florida where they emerge April-May. Edward's Hairstreak (Satyrium edwardsii), has one flight from May-July in the south and June-July in the north. Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus), has three to four flights in the south from February-November and two flights in the north from May-September. White-M Hairstreak (Parrhasius m-album) has three broods in the north from February-October. Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius) has three broods in Texas and the deep south from January-November, and two broods in the north from April-September. Juvenal’s Duskywing (Erynnis juvenalis) has one brood from April-June, appearing as early as January in Florida. The Acorns are eaten by woodpeckers, blue joys, small mammals, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, and black bear.
    Play Value:
    Edible fruit
    Wildlife Food Source
    Wildlife Larval Host
    Wildlife Nesting
    Edibility:
    Acorns (nuts) are edible after tannins are leached or boiled out
    Dimensions:
    Height: 50 ft. 0 in. - 135 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 50 ft. 0 in. - 80 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Poisonous
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Broad
    Dense
    Pyramidal
    Rounded
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Medium
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    Available Space To Plant:
    more than 60 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gray/Silver
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Nut
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is 3/4 to 1-inch-long acorns that are elongated and have a shallow cup that covers 1/4 to 1/3 of the nut. The cup appears lumpy, light tan, or gray with warty scales. Acorns mature the first year and can be numerous. They are initially green and then ripen to a light brown color. Nuts appear from September-November.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Red/Burgundy
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Catkin
    Insignificant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Description:
    Male flowers are produced as greenish-yellow catkins in pendulous long chains about 2-3½" long and arranged in clusters. Female flowers are not showy and smaller than male flowers. They are greenish-red and appear as a few spikes in the axils of emerging leaves. Flowers appear in April.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    White
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Cuneate
    Elliptical
    Obovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Lobed
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are 4 to 9 inches long by 2 to 4 inches wide with 5 to 9 deep, rounded, and even lobes per leaf. They have a rounded tip and a wedge-shaped base and have no bristles. The sinuses vary in depth, and some may reach near the midrib. The color is bright green with whitish or glaucous undersides. The fall color is purplish brown to reddish-brown and develops late. A few leaves may persist into winter. Leaves are alternate, simple, elliptical, obovate, oblong-obovate, and cuneate. Lobes are entire and obtuse.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Light Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Peeling
    Ridges
    Bark Plate Shape:
    Irregular
    Bark Description:
    The bark is whitish or light ashy gray, scaly. shallowly furrowed and divided into flat narrow plates or vertical blocks. They may become flakey with age.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gray/Silver
    Red/Burgundy
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Lenticels:
    Conspicuous
    Stem Surface:
    Smooth (glabrous)
    Stem Description:
    Branch bark is light gray and smooth. Twigs are reddish-brown to purplish brown and smooth with scattered white lenticels. Buds are ovoid, blunt, up to 1/4" long, have imbricate scales, are reddish-brown to brown, and are pubescent hairy near ends.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Lawn
    Meadow
    Naturalized Area
    Recreational Play Area
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Children's Garden
    Drought Tolerant Garden
    Edible Garden
    Native Garden
    Nighttime Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Design Feature:
    Flowering Tree
    Shade Tree
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Moths
    Pollinators
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Black Walnut
    Deer
    Drought
    Dry Soil
    Fire
    Heat
    Salt
    Problems:
    Messy
    Poisonous to Humans
    Problem for Horses
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    Low
    Poison Symptoms:
    Abdominal pain, constipation then diarrhea (occasionally bloody), depression, frequent urination, discolored urine, jaundice; acorns can obstruct the digestive tract
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    Gallotannins, quercitrin, and quercitin.
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    No
    Poison Part:
    Leaves
    Seeds