Water Oak, A Common Tree in North America

Quercus nigra, A Top 100 Common Tree in North America

Water oak is a rapid growing tree. Leaves of a mature water oak are usually spatula-shaped while leaves of immature saplings can be long and narrow (see examples on plate below). Many describe the leaf as looking like a duck's foot. Q. nigra can be described as "nearly evergreen" as some green leaves will cling to the tree through the winter. Water oak has strikingly smooth bark.

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The Silviculture of Water Oak

Steve Nix

Water oak is particularly suited for timber, fuel, wildlife habitat, and environmental forestry. It has been widely planted in southern communities as a shade tree. Its veneer has been successfully used as plywood for fruit and vegetable containers.

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The Images of Water Oak

Forestryimages.org provides several images of parts of water oak. The tree is a hardwood and the lineal taxonomy is Magnoliopsida > Fagales > Fagaceae > Quercus nigra. Water oak is also commonly called possum oak or spotted oak.

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The Range of Water Oak

Water oak range. USFS

Water oak is found along the Coastal Plain from southern New Jersey and Delaware south to southern Florida; west to eastern Texas; and north in the Mississippi Valley to southeastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, and southwestern Tennessee.

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Water Oak at Virginia Tech

Leaf: Alternate, simple, 2 to 4 inches long and extremely variable in shape (from spatulate to lanceolate), may be 0 to 5 lobed, margins may be entire or bristle-tipped, both surfaces are glabrous, but axillary tufts may be present below.

Twig: Slender, red-brown; buds short, sharp-pointed, angular, red-brown, multiple at the tip.

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Fire Effects on Water Oak

Water oak is easily damaged by fire. Low-severity surface fires top-kill water oak less than 3 to 4 inches in d.b.h. The bark of larger trees is thick enough to protect the cambium from low-severity fires and the buds are above the heat of the fire. in a Santee Experimental Forest study in South Carolina, periodic winter and summer low-severity fires and annual winter low-severity fires were effective at reducing the number of hardwood stems (including water oak) between 1 and 5 inches in d.b.h. Annual summer fires also reduced the number of stems in that size class, as well as nearly eliminating all stems less than 1 inch in d.b.h. Root systems were weakened and eventually killed by burning during the growing season .

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Your Citation
Nix, Steve. "Water Oak, A Common Tree in North America." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/water-oak-tree-overview-1343210. Nix, Steve. (2023, April 5). Water Oak, A Common Tree in North America. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/water-oak-tree-overview-1343210 Nix, Steve. "Water Oak, A Common Tree in North America." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/water-oak-tree-overview-1343210 (accessed June 10, 2023).