As many as 70 species of oak trees grow in the United States, according to the Floridata website. Many of these oaks are native to Louisiana and are important hardwood trees and landscaping plants. Louisiana’s oak trees, like those of the rest of the nation, fall into two categories, the white oak and the red oak families.
Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) belongs to the red oak family, a group of trees featuring bristle-tipped lobes on the leaves and bitter-tasting acorns that require two years to mature. Shumard oak leaves are as long as 8 inches and will have seven, nine or 11 lobes with distinct points. Shumard oaks provide ample shade in hot weather, with their leaves changing to gold or red before falling off for winter. In Louisiana, Shumard oaks in the wild grow near streams, ponds and swamps, preferring wet soils. Seedlings need full sun to grow, but saplings and well-established trees can grow in partial shade. Shumard oaks can reach 80 to 90 feet. Artisans use its red-brown wood for veneers, furniture and flooring.
The water oak (Quercus nigra), another red oak, is a key species for Louisiana wildlife. It tends to die young, and the rotting tree provides birds and animals with homes and food from insects that infest the tree. Water oak grows in well-draining loam and is found near ponds, swamps and in moist soils. Water oak can grow to 50 to 80 feet with a rounded and broad crown. The leaves, shaped like a spatula, are 2 to 4 inches long and will stay on the oak until the following spring, when new ones replace them. Water oak is quick growing, reaching maturity in 40 to 70 years. After that, the tree tends to rot and is susceptible to losing branches, so keep this tree away from your home and cars. Water oak acorns are small and have very shallow caps.
The white oak (Quercus alba) is the largest oak in the white oak group, which contains trees with rounded lobes on the leaves and sweet-tasting acorns that mature in one season. The white oak can be as tall as 150 feet, with the average specimen between 60 to 80 feet. White oaks that grow in the open develop a magnificent spreading array of limbs. The leaves have seven or nine rounded lobes and grow 5 to 9 inches long. White oak gets its name from its whitish-gray bark. Your white oak will flourish if it has access to ample water, full sun and somewhat acidic soil. This oak can grow 20 feet in 15 years but will likely need a century to grow to maturity. White oak is a premiere shade tree. When planting multiple seedlings, space them at least 40 feet apart. In Louisiana, this tree grows in the uplands and often with such species as hickory and sweetgum.