American white Oak - Tree of the Week

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Quirky name

1. The Latin for American white oak is Quercus alba

2. It hails from the family Fagaceae

3. Other names associated with this tree are Arizona oak, stave oak and roble

4. In spite of its name, it is unusual to find a tree with white bark. Its usual colour is ashen grey

Growing pains

1. American white oak is predominately found in North America and Eastern Canada

2. It is a tree of versatility and can be found on ridges, in valleys, in dry or moist areas, and in moderately acid and alkaline soils. It does not, however, tolerate urban conditions well, due to an intolerance of soil compaction and changes in soil levels

l Mainly found on the lowlands, the white oak can reach altitudes of 5,249ft in the Appalachian Mountains

3. The typical height reached is 25-30m (80-100ft). It has a very wide spread with few dropping limbs, and can be as wide as it is tall

4. The leaves start out silvery pink, moving to a deep glossy green, and then on to brown and red in the autumn

It figures

1. The heartwood varies in colour from light tan or pale yellow brown, to dark or pale brown, and can have a pink tint

2. Grain is usually straight and open

3. The timber is medium to coarse in texture

4. Figuring includes swirls, crotch pattern, burrs, and a tiger-ray flake pattern

5. Sapwood is white to light brown

Size matters

1. The Wye Oak of Wye Mills, Maryland, was the largest and oldest American white oak in the USA until it was destroyed by a thunderstorm in 2002. It was believed to have been 460 years old, and measured 29m (96ft) in height with a crown 36m (119ft) wide

2. The Linden Oak seems to have replaced the Wye Oak to become the largest white oak in North America, measuring 29m (95ft) in height with a crown spread of over 40m (132ft)

In a state

1. White oak is the official state tree of Illinois, voted for by school children. Of the two trees which represent state trees, one can be found on the grounds of the governor’s mansion whilst the other is located in a schoolyard in Rochelle

2. Connecticut and Maryland also have the white oak as their state tree

3. The Charter Oak of Hartford, Connecticut, is one of the most famous white oaks in America. The tree now makes up the reverse side of the Connecticut state quarter


1. American white oak is hard and heavy, with medium crushing and bending strength. It has great stem-bending qualities and is virtually waterproof, with high resistance to wear

2. It planes, turns, bores, sands, mortises, stains and polishes well

3. The tannin content can have an adverse reaction to ferrous metals, resulting in iron staining

4. It is difficult to season. Problems include end and surface checks, honeycombing, collapse, ring failure and iron staining

5. The heartwood is resistant to decay but it can come under attack by ambrosia beetles

6. The heartwood is resistant to preservation treatments


1. American white oak is typically used in furniture and cabinetmaking, joinery, office furniture, boatbuilding, trim, panelling, flooring, cooperage for wine and whisky, and shingles.

2. The timber is often sliced for veneers and rotary-cut for plywood

3. Gustav Stickley used American white oak in his mission style oak furniture

4. White oaks have tyloses which gives the wood a closed cellular structure, therefore stopping water from passing, so it makes good timber for whisky barrels and outdoor furniture

Food for thought

1. The acorns from white oaks are eaten by turkeys, wood ducks, pheasants, nuthatches, woodpeckers, rabbits, squirrels and deer, amongst others

2. The acorns were also eaten by Native Americans

Images, from top to bottom:

1. The American white oak tree

2. Leaves from the American white oak tree

3. American white oak wood grain

4. The American white oak pictured on a coin

5. A cabinet made from American white oak

6. American white oak is a good material for whisky barrels and outdoor furniture

7. Acorns from the American white oak tree