The white oak (Quercus alba) provides lumber for use in barrels, flooring, construction and furnishings. With red to purple fall color, the white oak is often used in landscaping as an ornamental planting. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Northeastern Area, more than 180 different kinds of birds and mammals use oak acorns as a food source, including blue jays, deer, turkey, quail, ducks and raccoons.
White oak is native to the Eastern United States. Growing from extreme Southern Quebec to Florida, the white oak native range spreads as far west as Eastern Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Although the white oak is generally not found in the high Appalachians or the Delta of the lower Mississippi River, the west slopes of the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River Valleys have the ideal growing conditions for the white oak. The largest white oak trees have been recorded along the Eastern Shore of Delaware and Maryland, according to the USFS Northeastern Area.
White oaks adapt easily to a wide variety of climates. While white oaks grow in a wide area featuring many different climates, the ideal conditions feature an annual temperature of 55 degrees F, 40 inches of rain on an annual basis and six months of frost-free days.
White oak trees grow in a variety of soils, with adequate growth found on all but the poorest soil conditions. Dry, shallow soil conditions and wet bottomlands do not support white oaks to the full potential.
Once an acorn germinates, the roots grow steadily, although the shoot remains dormant until cold weather interrupts the growth. The seedling remains dormant until the following spring. The ideal location for seedling growth occurs when large seed trees are within 200 foot of the seedling location, providing a light to moderate litter cover and at least 35 percent sunlight. In general, seedlings experience greater success when in open stands with dry exposures, according to the USFS Northeastern Area. In ideal growing conditions, a seedling grows 2 foot or more every year.
White oak trees are considered long-lived, living up to 800 years as reported by the Chattooga Conservancy. Growing up to 100 feet in height and 48 inches in diameter, on average, the white oak develops with a straight trunk and compact crown. Generally considered a slow-growing tree, the average white oak grows slower than Northern red oak (Q. rubra), yet faster than hickory and beech trees. In ten years, the tree may only grow by 2 inches in diameter at any stage of life.
White oaks feature deep roots from youth through to maturity. Seedlings produce a strong taproot that is replaced by a fibrous root system as the tree matures. When located in crowded growing conditions, the root systems of neighboring trees may graft together. The majority of roots are located approximately 21 inches below the ground surface.
During the spring, male and female flowers appear on the white oak. From late March to late May, the flowers of both sexes are present on each tree. The male flowers, called catkins, appear approximately one week before the female flower bloom. Fertilization usually takes place over a three-day period.
Acorns reach a mature stage after 120 days. Within 25 days after maturity, the acorns begin dropping to the ground. Acorn yields may range from zero to 500,000 acorns per acre, depending on the weather conditions. In general, a bumper crop of acorns occurs every 4 to 10 years.