White Oak (Quercus alba) in the White Oak family
White Oaks grow to be massive trees. Common in the eastern part of the country, they have rough, scaly bark and rounded leaf canopies with sturdy horizontal branches. They are resistant to a variety of urban ills such as drought, heat, road salt, and pollution. It is estimated that a good White Oak in a residential yard adds $1500 - $3000 in value to the property.
White Oaks range farther north than most other Oaks. They are cold hardy up to the Great Lakes, into southern New England (zone 4). They grow as far south as east Texas and the Gulf States (zone 8).
White Oaks grow 75 to 100 feet at maturity in nature (50 to 80 feet in the home landscape), their large canopy typically spreading as wide or wider than their height. They grow slowly at first, about a foot a year, for the first 12 years. Eventually trunks of mature trees range from 3 to 4 feet in diameter. White Oaks commonly live 350 to 400 years--even 500 years.
White Oak leaves emerge in May as bright red or pink, turning quickly to silver-gray. Somewhat dull on the surface and pale underneath, they turn medium green by midsummer. In the fall they turn a rich reddish-burgundy color. Typically 5 to 9 inches long and 2 to 4 inches wide, they have 7 to 9 deeply cut lobes which are rounded at their tips. Leaves fall in late autumn, although some of the interior ones persist until January.
White Oaks produce drooping male flowers called catkins in May just after the leaves emerge. They are yellow green, 1 to 2 inches long. By September or early October they give way to 3/4 inch long acorns that are light green initially and turn brown as they ripen. Sometimes acorns grow singly on a twig, sometimes in pairs.