Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 1195 Quercus bicolor

Common Names: swamp white oak Family: Fagaceae (beech Family)
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swamp white oak
A swamp white oak tree at the Boone County Arboretum in Northern Kentucky.
swamp white oak
The swamp white oak has grayish-brown bark with scaly, flaking patches on the limbs.


The swamp white oak is a medium sized oak, typically getting no more than 50-70 ft (15-21 m) tall with a broad, rounded canopy spreading up to 40 ft (12 m) across (or more for a tree growing in the open). In a crowded forest the largest trees can get over 100 ft (30 m) tall with a pyramidal shape. Bark on the trunk of large specimens is light grayish brown with pronounced ridges and furrows, much like that of the related white oak (Q. alba); bark on limbs is often flaking in patchy ragged scales.

The deciduous leaves are 4-7 in (10-17 cm) long and 2-4 in (5-10 cm) wide. They can have six to ten rounded lobes on each side (more shallow than those of white oak leaves), or they may have dentate wavy margins, much like the leaves of swamp chestnut oak (Q. michauxii). The leaves are often distinctly bicolored, dark green above and silvery beneath. As is characteristic of oaks in the white oak group, the lobes and leaf tips lack bristles. Leaves turn reddish brown to orange and sometimes bright red in autumn. The acorns are about an inch (2.5 cm) long with about one-third enclosed by a bowl-like cup. The acorns have uniquely long slender stalks, 1-4 in (2.5-6 cm) long, and this readily distinguishes swamp white oak from the similar swamp chestnut oak whose acorns have short peduncles. Acorns mature in one season. Especially good crops usually occur every 3-5 years, beginning around a tree age of 35 years.


Quercus bicolor, the swamp white oak, grows in bottomland swamps, along river and stream banks and in poorly drained pastures east of the Great Plains from Maine, Quebec and Ontario south to the piedmont of Missouri, Alabama and the Carolinas. It is does not occur naturally on the SE Coastal Plain nor in Georgia, Florida, Louisiana or Texas. Swamp white oak occurs in scattered locations, especially around the periphery of its primarily northeastern U.S. range. In many areas the species occurs just one here and one there, but in some places swamp white oak but can be locally numerous.


Swamp white oak needs an acidic soil; its foliage will turn yellow in neutral or basic soils. Light: Swamp white oak will grow in light shade but does best in full sun. Seedlings tolerate moderate shade. Moisture: Swamp white oak grows well in compacted, mucky and peaty soils where drainage is poor. Adapted as it is to river swamps that may be flooded part of the year and dry as a bone the rest of the year, swamp white oak is surprisingly drought resistant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 8. Propagation:Acorns can be planted as soon as they ripen or later. They do not need any special treatment to break dormancy.

swamp white oak
Swamp white oak acorns are held on long stems called peduncles.
swamp white oak
Swamp white oak foliage is light greenish white on the undersides.


Swamp white oak is used in landscaping as a specimen tree. They grow fast on optimum sites and have a maximum age of around 300 years. Even gentle summertime breezes can flutter the leaves, exposing contrasting silver-green undersides and dark green topsides. Fall foliage is variable but can sometimes be a stunning fiery red. Open grown trees are particularly attractive in winter with their short, thick bole (up to 8 ft (2.4 m) in diameter), persistent pendulous lower branches and ascending upper branches. The bark on young branches curls back in papery scales, exposing the bright green inner bark.

The wood of swamp white oak is hard and strong, and slightly more dense than that of white oak. It is resistant to decay and used without preservative treatment for railroad ties, mine timbers, flooring, barrels, boats, and general construction purposes. The acorns are eaten by ducks, turkeys, deer, black bears, squirrels, and many other critters. Native Americans ate the acorns of most oaks after leaching out the bitter tannins by boiling in a mixture of water and wood ashes.


Easy to grow, swamp white oak is lately becoming quite popular as a street tree and for planting in city parks where the soil may be less than ideal, compacted and not well aerated. Swamp white oaks were chosen for planting at the 9/11 Memorial at the former World Trade Center site in New York because of their adaptability, durability, and fall leaf color. Trees were transplanted from SW Pennsylvania, near Washington D.C. and near New York City, the three areas impacted by the terrorist attack.

American Forests (www.americanforests.org) claims to be the oldest non-profit conservation organization in the U.S. Among other things, they maintain a registry of the largest trees in the country, which they call National Champion Trees. Candidate trees are ranked by the formula:

trunk circumference at 4.5 ft above ground in inches + height in feet + ΒΌ of the average crown spread in feet = total points.

A swamp white oak growing in an open location in Franklin Township, New Jersey has a 272 in (680 cm) circumference, a height of 97 ft (291 cm), and an average crown spread of 101 ft (303 cm), which computes to 394 points, and makes it the National Champion swamp white oak.

Steve Christman 9/25/13

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Quercus species profiled on Floridata:

Quercus acutissima

( sawtooth oak )

Quercus alba

( white oak )

Quercus bicolor

( swamp white oak )

Quercus cerris

( Turkish oak, Turkey oak )

Quercus coccinea

( scarlet oak )

Quercus falcata

( southern red oak, Spanish oak )

Quercus geminata

( sand live oak )

Quercus hemisphaerica

( laurel oak, upland laurel oak, damn laurel oak )

Quercus imbricaria

( shingle oak, northern laurel oak )

Quercus laevis

( turkey oak, blackjack oak )

Quercus macrocarpa

( bur oak, mossycup oak )

Quercus michauxii

( swamp chestnut oak, basket oak, cow oak )

Quercus muehlenbergii

( chinkapin oak, yellow chestnut oak, chinquapin oak, yellow oak )

Quercus nigra

( water oak, spotted oak, possum oak )

Quercus nuttallii

( nuttall oak )

Quercus palustris

( pin oak, Spanish oak, swamp oak )

Quercus phellos

( willow oak )

Quercus prinus

( chestnut oak,rock chestnut oak,rock oak,basket oak,tanbark oak )

Quercus robur

( English oak, pedunculate oak, truffle oak )

Quercus rubra

( northern red oak )

Quercus shumardii

( Shumard oak, Shumard red oak )

Quercus velutina

( black oak, quercitron oak, yellowbark oak, yellow oak )

Quercus virginiana

( live oak )

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