An individual instance of Quercus bicolor (swamp white oak)
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General: Beech Family (Fagaceae).  Native trees commonly growing to 15-20 m, sometimes to 30 m, the lateral branches relatively persistent (slow in self-pruning), with an open, irregularly shaped crown; bark dark gray, scaly or flat-ridged, often peeling off in large, ragged, papery curls.  Leaves are deciduous, alternate, obovate to narrowly elliptic or narrowly obovate, (8-)12-18(-21) cm long, (4-)7-11(-16) cm wide, usually with regularly spaced, shallow, rounded teeth, or toothed in distal half only, or moderately to deeply lobed, upper surfaces dark green and glossy, lower surfaces lighter green to whitish, softly hairy.  Male and female flowers are borne in separate catkins on the same tree (the species monoecious) on the current year's branchlets.  Acorns maturing the first year, ovoid-ellipsoid or oblong, mostly 1.5-3 cm long, single or clustered in groups of 2-4, on a stalk (peduncle) 3-8 cm long; cup enclosing 1/3-1/2 of the acorn, scales closely appressed, finely grayish tomentose, those near rim of cup often with a short, stout, irregularly recurved spinose tip.  The common name is from its typical habitat and its membership in the white oak subgroup. 

Industry: The wood of swamp white oak is light brown, close-grained, heavy, and hard.  It is similar to that of white oak (Q. alba) and usually is cut and sold under that name, but the amount of lumbered swamp white oak is a small fraction of the total for 'white oak.'  Also, because the lateral branches of swamp white oak tend to persist (compared to white oak), the wood is knottier and less valuable.  The wood is used for furniture, cabinets, veneers, interior finishing, and flooring, as well as for boxes, crates, fence posts, railroad ties, and beams and boards for general construction.  As in white oak, the wood provides tight cooperage and was once widely used in making barrels and kegs.

Conservation: Swamp white oak is planted on highway rights-of-way and is frequently used as a shade tree for large lawns, golf courses, parks, and naturalized areas.  The crown shape and bi-colored leaves (dark above, lighter beneath) are attractive features; fall color is yellow, with occasional red-purple.  The trees can grow well in areas that are dry, poorly drained and wet, or even occasionally flooded, and they will tolerate significant soil compaction.  

Wildlife: Trees of swamp white oak provide cover for birds and mammals.  The acorns are sweet and are an important food for wildlife such as squirrels, mice, white-tailed deer, beaver, black bear, and a variety of birds, including ducks and turkey. 

Ethnobotanic: Native Americans and pioneers have eaten the acorns raw or cooked.  They have been ground into a powder and used as a thickening in stews or mixed with cereals for making bread.  Roasted acorns have been ground and used as a coffee substitute.  Bitterness of the tannins is removed by leaching in running water.  Oak galls, caused by the activity of the larvae of various insects, can be used as a source of tannin and dye.  They also are strongly astringent and can be used in the treatment of hemorrhages, chronic diarrhea, and dysentery.  Some Native Americans used swamp white oak to treat cholera, broken bones, and consumption.  Mulch of the dead leaves is reported to repel slugs, grubs, and various insects.


Swamp white oak occurs mainly in the Midwestern states from Iowa, Missouri, eastern Kentucky, and southern Wisconsin east to New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.  Isolated populations occur northward in Minnesota, other New England states, and Quebec and Ontario, and southward to Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina. 


Swamp white oak occurs in a variety of soils (from silty clay to silt and sandy loams) in swamp forests of river bottoms, streamsides, depressions, borders of ponds, lakes and swamps, and moist peaty flats.  It also occurs on moist slopes and poorly drained uplands, at elevations of 0-1000 meters.  Swamp white oak usually is a minor component of the forests in which it occurs, perhaps depending on local disturbance for release into the canopy.  Stands of elm-ash-cottonwood will convert to oak-dominated stands that include swamp white oak.  White oak forests (of which swamp white oak is a component) will progress towards hickory and beech forests if undisturbed. 

Flowering occurs in May-June, during early development of the leaves, while fruiting occurs in August-October. 

Seed production in swamp white oak begins at 20-30 years.  The greatest production occurs between 75-100 years; good seed crops are produced every 3-5 years.  The acorns have no dormancy and may germinate the same season as ripening and falling.  The maximum age for trees of swamp white oak is 300-350 years. 


Nesom, G. (2003).  Plant guide for swamp white oak (quercus bicolor Willd.). Retrieved from


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Quercus bicolor


sec. Tennessee Flora 2014

common name: swamp white oak
family: Fagaceae
Identified 2016-03-13 by Patrick Phoebus


Raider Dr, Rutherford County, Tennessee, US
Click on these geocoordinates to load a map showing the location: 35.8535°, -86.3694°
Coordinate uncertainty about: 10 m.
Altitude: 187 m.

Location calculated as average of its images' coordinates.

Occurrences were recorded for this particular organism on the following dates:

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whole tree (or vine) - general
whole tree (or vine) - winter
whole tree (or vine) - winter
bark - unspecified
bark - of a large tree
leaf - showing orientation on twig

Tennessee Flora 2014 =

Tennessee Flora Committee, 2014. Guide to the Vascular Plants of Tennessee (editors: E. W. Chester, B. E. Wofford, J. Shaw, D. Estes, and D. H. Webb). The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, TN, US.

Metadata last modified: 2019-10-16T22:24:42.018-05:00
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