White Oak (Quercus alba)

Description: White oak is an excellent ornamental tree because of its broad round crown, dense foliage, and purplish-red to violet-purple fall color.

Oak trees define many regions of North America. It is one of the dominant trees in the Oak-Hickory forest on the east coast.

White Oak leaf
White Oak leaf

White Oak Facts

Common name: White Oak
Scientific name: Quercus alba
Family name: Fagaceae (Beech family)

Native range: moist woodlands from Maine to Minnesota southward to Florida and Texas

Habitat: The 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.

Height: over 100 feet tall, spread 1 1/2 times the height; 38 to 50 inches in diameter
Light needed: will tolerate shade when young; sun to partial shade
Hardiness zones: 3 – 9
Bloom period: spring
Bloom color: pastel green tiny wind-pollinated flowers

White Oak leaves in Wissahickon Valley Park in fall. Photo by Donna L. Long.
White Oak leaves in Wissahickon Valley Park in fall. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Attracts and Host Plant

Attracts: The sweet acorns are eaten by squirrels, Blue Jays, Northern Flicker, Crows, Red-headed woodpeckers, deer, turkey, quail, mice, chipmunks, ducks, and raccoons.

Host plant to: White Oak is eaten by several insects: leaf eaters including gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), Orange striped 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.

In other words this is a great tree to observe insects.

White Oak Growing Tips

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 tap-rooted, it is difficult to transplant. Production in the nursery is difficult as well and growth is slow.

It doesn’t survive well in shade, poor drainage, and alkaline soil. Mulch generously with organic matter over the root zone.

White Oak (Quercus alba) acorns
White Oak (Quercus alba) acorns

Growing from Seed

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.

More Information on Trees and Shrubs for Backyard Habitats

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Why Do Leaves Change Color? with a Video

Why Trees Shed Leaves in the Fall with a Video

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