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White Oak

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White Oak
White Oak Leaf in fall

White Oak is a major forest tree in the Eastern United States. The name comes from the silver grey bark and in early spring the new growth appears white against the green backdrop of other trees. While not a bee tree, White Oaks are support the larvae of more moth and butterfly species than any other eastern tree species. The nuts are sweet and low in tannins and are a favorite hard mast for wildlife.

Its leaves are one of the last to color in the fall. As the cool deepens, a few red leaves begin to appear mixed in the still green foliage. Then, with the first hard freeze the tree turns a deep burgundy red. Young trees may hold their brown leaves until spring providing shelter for roosting birds.

Growth is slow to medium. The tree form is straight and tall with forest competition and broad and rounded when grown in the open. These trees can live for many hundreds of years. There are several around that were large trees at the founding of the country.

The wood is hard, heavy and dense. The sapwood is white and the heartwood is a pleasant tan color. White Oak from the mid-south and lower midwest is in great demand in Europe as a close substitute for the European Oak. The heartwood is rot resistant due to its interesting cell structure. The phloem tubes with carry nutrients and water up and down the tree are walled off in White Oak which keeps the wood from wicking water from exposed ends. The ship, Old Ironsides, was clad in thick boards of New England White Oak and it is said cannonballs bounced right off it.

The trees have been “logged out” from some areas and in places are now uncommon. This makes a majestic yard or estate tree and will be a welcome addition to any forest restoration. Consider the White Oak when planning your tree planting not only for beauty but also for wildlife and the diversity of insects they support. White oaks can be the foundation for rebuilding diversity in a neighborhood or forest.

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