White oak
Overview
Quercus alba, the white oak, is one of the pre-eminent hardwood
Hardwood
Hardwood is wood from angiosperm trees . It may also be used for those trees themselves: these are usually broad-leaved; in temperate and boreal latitudes they are mostly deciduous, but in tropics and subtropics mostly evergreen.Hardwood contrasts with softwood...

s of eastern North America. It is a long-lived oak
Oak
An oak is a tree or shrub in the genus Quercus , of which about 600 species exist. "Oak" may also appear in the names of species in related genera, notably Lithocarpus...

 of the Fagaceae
Fagaceae
The family Fagaceae, or beech family, comprises about 900 species of both evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs, which are characterized by alternate simple leaves with pinnate venation, unisexual flowers in the form of catkins, and fruit in the form of cup-like nuts. Fagaceous leaves are often...

 family, native to eastern North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

 and found from southern Quebec
Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

 west to eastern Minnesota
Minnesota
Minnesota is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. The twelfth largest state of the U.S., it is the twenty-first most populous, with 5.3 million residents. Minnesota was carved out of the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory and admitted to the Union as the thirty-second state...

 and south to northern Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

 and eastern Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

. 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.
Encyclopedia
Quercus alba, the white oak, is one of the pre-eminent hardwood
Hardwood
Hardwood is wood from angiosperm trees . It may also be used for those trees themselves: these are usually broad-leaved; in temperate and boreal latitudes they are mostly deciduous, but in tropics and subtropics mostly evergreen.Hardwood contrasts with softwood...

s of eastern North America. It is a long-lived oak
Oak
An oak is a tree or shrub in the genus Quercus , of which about 600 species exist. "Oak" may also appear in the names of species in related genera, notably Lithocarpus...

 of the Fagaceae
Fagaceae
The family Fagaceae, or beech family, comprises about 900 species of both evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs, which are characterized by alternate simple leaves with pinnate venation, unisexual flowers in the form of catkins, and fruit in the form of cup-like nuts. Fagaceous leaves are often...

 family, native to eastern North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

 and found from southern Quebec
Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

 west to eastern Minnesota
Minnesota
Minnesota is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. The twelfth largest state of the U.S., it is the twenty-first most populous, with 5.3 million residents. Minnesota was carved out of the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory and admitted to the Union as the thirty-second state...

 and south to northern Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

 and eastern Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

. 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.

Description

Normally not a very tall tree, typically reaching 65–85 feet (19.5-25.5 m) at maturity, it nonetheless becomes quite massive and its lower branches are apt to extend far out laterally, parallel to the ground. 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 oaks have been known to live up to six hundred years. The bark
Bark
Bark is the outermost layers of stems and roots of woody plants. Plants with bark include trees, woody vines and shrubs. Bark refers to all the tissues outside of the vascular cambium and is a nontechnical term. It overlays the wood and consists of the inner bark and the outer bark. The inner...

 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
Leaf
A leaf is an organ of a vascular plant, as defined in botanical terms, and in particular in plant morphology. Foliage is a mass noun that refers to leaves as a feature of plants....

 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 half-way to the midrib, or deep and somewhat branching. The acorn
Acorn
The acorn, or oak nut, is the nut of the oaks and their close relatives . It usually contains a single seed , enclosed in a tough, leathery shell, and borne in a cup-shaped cupule. Acorns vary from 1–6 cm long and 0.8–4 cm broad...

s are usually sessile, and grow to 0.5-1 inch in length, falling in early October.

Quercus alba is sometimes confused with the swamp white oak
Swamp White Oak
Quercus bicolor, the swamp white oak, is a medium-sized tree of the north central and northeastern mixed forests. It has a very large range, and can survive in a variety of habitats. It grows rapidly and can reach 300 to 350 years...

, a closely related species, and the bur oak
Bur oak
Quercus macrocarpa, the Bur Oak, sometimes spelled Burr Oak, is a species of oak in the white oak section Quercus sect. Quercus, native to North America in the eastern and midwestern United States and south-central Canada...

. The white oak hybridizes freely with the bur oak
Bur oak
Quercus macrocarpa, the Bur Oak, sometimes spelled Burr Oak, is a species of oak in the white oak section Quercus sect. Quercus, native to North America in the eastern and midwestern United States and south-central Canada...

, the post oak
Post oak
Quercus stellata is an oak in the white oak group. It is a small tree, typically 10–15 m tall and 30–60 cm trunk diameter, though occasional specimens reach 30 m tall and 140 cm diameter. It is native to the eastern United States, from Connecticut in the northeast, west to southern Iowa, southwest...

, and the chestnut oak
Chestnut oak
Quercus prinus , the chestnut oak, is a species of oak in the white oak group, Quercus sect. Quercus. It is native to the eastern United States, where it is one of the most important ridgetop trees from southern Maine southwest to central Mississippi, with an outlying northwestern population in...

.
  • 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 half way 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.

Distribution

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
Appalachian Mountains
The Appalachian Mountains #Whether the stressed vowel is or ,#Whether the "ch" is pronounced as a fricative or an affricate , and#Whether the final vowel is the monophthong or the diphthong .), often called the Appalachians, are a system of mountains in eastern North America. The Appalachians...

. It is often a component of the forest canopy in an oak-heath forest.

Cultivation

The white oak makes an outstanding shade tree, with an exceptionally wide spread and almost never dropping limbs. However, it does not tolerate urban conditions well due to an intolerance of soil compaction and changes in soil levels. It may thrive in residential neighborhoods where protected from such change.

Uses

White oak has tylose
Tylose
Tyloses are outgrowths on parenchyma cells of xylem vessels . When the plant is stressed by drought or infection, tyloses will fall from the sides of the cells and "dam" up the vascular tissue to prevent further damage to the plant.Tyloses can aid in the process of making sapwood into heartwood in...

s that give the wood a closed cellular structure, making it water- and rot-resistant. Because of this characteristic, white oak is used for barrels for wine and whiskey production since it resists leaking. It has also been used in construction, shipbuilding, cooperage, agricultural implements, and in the interior finishing of houses.

It was a signature wood used in mission style
Mission style
Mission style may refer to the following:*Mission Style Furniture*Mission Revival Style architecture*American Craftsman, an architectural and design movement*Mission School, an art movement of the late 20th century...

 oak furniture by Gustav Stickley
Gustav Stickley
Gustav Stickley was a manufacturer of furniture and the leading proselytizer for the American Arts and Crafts movement, an extension of the British Arts and Crafts movement.-Biography:...

 in the Craftsman style of the Arts and Crafts movement
Arts and Crafts movement
Arts and Crafts was an international design philosophy that originated in England and flourished between 1860 and 1910 , continuing its influence until the 1930s...

.

White oak is used extensively in Japanese martial arts for some weapons, such as the bokken
Bokken
A bokken , "wood", and ken, "sword") , is a Japanese wooden sword used for training. It is usually the size and shape of a katana, but is sometimes shaped like other swords, such as the wakizashi and tantō...

 and jo
Jo (weapon)
A is an approximately 1.276 m long wooden staff, used in some Japanese martial arts. The martial art of wielding the jō is called jōjutsu or jōdō. Also, aiki-jō is a set of techniques in aikido which uses the jō to illustrate aikido's principles with a weapon. The jō staff is shorter than the bō...

. 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. Urban legend attributes Japanese white oak (“Kashi”) as being the wood of choice but, by law, no white oak is harvested in Japan. Virtually all white oak used in the manufacture of weapons in Japan is imported from the northwestern United States.

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. They were also used for food by Native Americans
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

. The white oak is the only known food plant of the Bucculatrix luteella
Bucculatricidae
Bucculatricidae or is a family of moths. This small family has representatives in all parts of the world. Some authors place the group as a subfamily of the family Lyonetiidae....

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.

The USS Constitution
USS Constitution
USS Constitution is a wooden-hulled, three-masted heavy frigate of the United States Navy. Named by President George Washington after the Constitution of the United States of America, she is the world's oldest floating commissioned naval vessel...

 is made of white oak, and reconstructive wood replacement comes from a special grove of Quercus alba known as the "Constitution Grove" at Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division
Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division
Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division is the principal tenant command located at Naval Support Activity Crane. NSA Crane is a United States Navy installation located approximately southwest of Bloomington, Indiana and predominantly located in Martin County, but small parts also extend into...

.

Woodworkers should be aware that ferrous
Ferrous
Ferrous , in chemistry, indicates a divalent iron compound , as opposed to ferric, which indicates a trivalent iron compound ....

 metal hardware reacts with oak, causing corrosion and staining the wood. Brass or stainless steel fittings should be used instead.

Symbolism

White oak has served as the official state tree of Illinois
Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

 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
Rochelle, Illinois
Rochelle is a city in Ogle County, Illinois, United States. The population was 9,574 at the 2010 census, up from 9,424 at the 2000 census. Rochelle is about west of Chicago and south of Rockford...

. The white oak is also the state tree of Connecticut
Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

 and Maryland
Maryland
Maryland is a U.S. state located in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east...

. The Wye Oak
Wye Oak
The Wye Oak was the honorary state tree of Maryland, and the largest white oak tree in the United States. Located in the town of Wye Mills, Talbot County, Maryland, the Wye Oak was believed to be over 460 years old at the time of its destruction during a severe thunderstorm on June 6, 2002, and...

, probably the oldest living white oak until it fell because of a thunderstorm
Thunderstorm
A thunderstorm, also known as an electrical storm, a lightning storm, thundershower or simply a storm is a form of weather characterized by the presence of lightning and its acoustic effect on the Earth's atmosphere known as thunder. The meteorologically assigned cloud type associated with the...

 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
Charter Oak
The Charter Oak was an unusually large white oak tree growing, from around the 12th or 13th century until 1856, on what the English colonists named Wyllys Hyll, in Hartford, Connecticut, USA...

 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.
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