Illinois State Tree
White Oak (common name)
Quercus alba (scientific name)
White oak is widely distributed throughout eastern North America. Its timber value and historical importance have led to its selection as the state tree for three states: Connecticut, Maryland, and Illinois.
White oaks are usually not white trees. The bark is most commonly ashen gray in color, although it ranges to white at times. The name distinguishes the wood of white oaks from the more uniformly reddish wood of other oaks.
Maryland designated the white oak as its state tree in 1947, and Connecticut designated it in 1947. White oak was selected by schoolchildren in 1973 to serve as the official state tree of Illinois. There are two "official" white oaks serving as state trees, one located on the grounds of the governor's mansion in Springfield, and the other in a schoolyard in Rochelle, Illinois.
White oak is a medium to tall, spreading, deciduous tree that commonly reaches heights of 60 to 80 feet (18-24 m). Individuals may grow to more than 100 feet (30 m) in height and exceed 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter. Leaves of the white oak are 5 to 9 inches long, outlined with 7 to 10 distinctive, deeply rounded lobes. Flowers are small, wind-pollinated, and arranged on hanging clusters. Acorns are ½ to one inch long, one quarter of which is enclosed under the cap.
Height: 60-85 ft (18-25.5 m)
Diameter: up to 5 ft (1.5 m)
Bark: light gray to dark gray to white; scaly, large and mostly flat
Seed: 0.5-1 in (1.3-2.5 cm) long acorn
Leaves: 5-9 in (13-23 cm), with rounded lobes
White oak is slow-growing and long-lived. Some trees have lived for up to 600 years.
White oak grows near a variety of other oak trees, as well as beech, sweet gum, chestnut, red maple, sugar maple, and hickories.
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE
Deer eat the young shoots of many eastern oak species. Dried oak leaves are also occasionally eaten by white-tailed deer in the fall or winter. Rabbits often browse twigs. Porcupines feed on the bark, and beavers eat the twigs of white oaks.
Acorns and sprouted acorns of white oak are considered choice food for many wildlife species, including the mice, squirrel, black bear, deer, and cottontail rabbit. Many birds eat white oak acorns. In some areas, the abundance of fall crops like acorns can affect black bear reproduction the following year.
White oak provides good cover for a wide variety of birds and mammals, including tree squirrels. Oak leaves often persist longer than many similar plants and in some dense growth areas, young oaks may represent the only brushy winter cover.
OTHER USES AND VALUES
White oak wood is heavy, hard, strong, and durable. When properly dried and treated, oak wood glues well, machines very well, and accepts a variety of finishes.
White oak is the most important timber oak and is commercially important as a source of wood for furniture, veneer, paneling, and flooring. It has been used to make railroad ties, fence posts, mine timbers, ships, and caskets. White oak has long been used for casks and is currently the major source of wood for whiskey barrels. Its high fuel value makes white oak an attractive firewood.
White oak is commonly used in landscaping as a shade tree or ornamental. In fall, its beauty is enhanced by colorful purplish-red to violet-purple foliage.
Acorns were traditionally an important food source for many Native American peoples. White oak acorns have been described from sweet and edible to slightly bitter. Acorns were often boiled to remove bitter tannins. Oils obtained from pressed acorns were used to alleviate pain in the joints.
White oak reproduces through seed and by vegetative means, both of which appear to be important. Vigorous crowned trees greater than 20 inches (51 cm) in diameter generally produce the best seed crops. Good acorn crops are irregular and occur only every 4 to 10 years. Pollen is produced in abundance, and is dispersed by wind.
Blue jays commonly exhibit a preference for burying acorns in open areas well suited for germination. Gray squirrels are also important to seed dispersal in many locations and are the only known long-distance disperser.
White oak grows in a variety of dry to moist woodland communities: in rich uplands, in moist bottomlands, along streams, on moist, fertile areas and sandy plains, and on dry, gravelly slopes.
White oak is found in 34 states in the east and Midwest. White oak grows throughout much of the eastern United States from southwest Maine to northern Florida. Its range extends westward to northern Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota, and southeastern Texas. The tree is generally absent in the high Appalachians, in the Delta region of the lower Mississippi, and in the coastal areas of Texas and Louisiana.
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U.S. Forest Service
U.S. National Arboretum
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Author: World Trade Press