White Oak

White oak in the fall
Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
Sprawling, beautiful tree outside of the Bett's house. It is the largest tree to the left of the house on the lawn. If you look closely, you'll see old etchings from lovers long ago.
Titilayo Mabogunje, Juliana Fan
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
20.67 m
Diameter at breast height: 
5.10 m

The bark is slightly more grey than white. It is scaly, with some sections at the roots smoother than the rest, but does not appear to be flaking off. There are certain sections of the tree where the scales appear to be larger and bumpier than the rest.
Twigs & branches
The branches are plentiful and of varying lengths, and thicknesses. As the tree is the "spreading" type, they extend across the lawn. Its lower branches "spread" across the lawn while its upper branches tend to ascend. Naturally, the branches drop as the tree grows, which explains why the tips of some branches are so close to the ground. However, the branches have not fallen off despite their weight because they are quite strong and resist breakage. The twigs are brown and are not hairy.
There were a few, dead and browned leaves around the area or on the tree in the months of observation. In April, small pink leaves began to grow all throughout the tree. These leaves alternate, and would grow until they became seven-lobed, 5-9 inches long and 3-4 inches wide. They begin to turn brown and fall in the autumn. This tree has deciduous leaves that can shed in certain seasons, typically Autumn. It has an alternate arrangement and its venation is pinnate.
Reproductive Structures
Pictured in my hand is a small male flower, a green catkin about 2 to 3.5 inches long. White Oaks are monoecious, meaning they have separate male and female flowers. Female flowers are green-red and are at the tips of new shoots. Oak trees are wind pollinated but birds and animals can also help them disperse by moving their reproductive products around. After fertilization, it takes another 3 months for acorns to mature. Typically, the male and female parts grow in different seasons - the male flower starts forming in Summer and produces pollen in the Spring, while the female flowers blossom around Springtime, in time to receive the pollen made by the male structures.
The fruit is a hard, brown, wood-like structure shaped like an oval or a very wide bowl. Due to its color, it easily blends into the background. This has a somewhat camouflaging effect on the fruit. It is dry and remains so even when ripe. It is a rather small fruit. Animals like squirrels like to feed on this fruit. The fertile female flowers of the white oak are replaced by acorns that are mature (1-1.5 in) by the fall. They do not start producing large acorn harvests until their 50th year. The acorns of the white oak are usually greenish brown to light brown and have a light tan or gray cap.
  • In the winter
Natural range of distribution: 
The white oak is found in a variety of different habitats, although it is localized to the eastern regions of the United States. It is able to live in a variety of different places: dry or moist, mildly acidic or alkaline. However, it most often prefers moist, deep, and well-drained sites. It often makes up the forest canopy in oak forests, and fewer natural fires has resulted in the proliferation of oak forests at the expense of other ecosystems.
Origin, history, and uses: 

The white oak in specific has held a special and significant place in U.S. history. It has been Illinois’ state tree, as well as for Connecticut and Maryland. It even is on the back of the Connecticut state quarter.

It is used for a variety of functions. Its wood is especially loved by woodworkers. Its wood is suited for wooden barrels for wine and whiskey because it has microscopic tissues called tyloses that give the wood a closed cellular structure, ideal for leak-proof containers. It also is used in construction, shipbuilding, martial weapons, furniture, instruments, and more.

It also symbolizes strength, persistence, and peace. In Native America, some tribes regarded the tree as sacred. In many ways, it is still sacred among current Noth Americans - there are swamp oaks planted by the World Trade Memorial center to render an atmosphere of peace and serenity in a space where it is easy to be overwhelmed by grief. This stability and support offered by the symbol of the white oak is perhaps why it has remained so loved over many years.

There are reddish-brown buds in the winter, but they only start to become leaves in the spring, starting with a delicate silvery-pink color and covered in soft down. Flowers begin to appear in May after the leaves are 1/3rd grown. The leaves grow to around 5 to 8.5 inches, and turn red/brown in autumn. Large crops of acorns begin at 50 years of age for the tree, and begin to fall in late October. Acorns only take one growing season, and so they begin to sprout in the fall with leaves and stems in the spring.

Distribution map: “Quercus alba.” Wikipedia, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quercus_alba. Accessed April 22, 2019.

Arbor Day Foundation. “White Oak.” 2019. <https://www.arborday.org/trees/treeguide/TreeDetail.cfm?ItemID=883>.
Center for Teaching & Learning & Flemming Museum. (n.d.). Omeka@CTL | UVM Tree Profiles : White Oak : White Oak Symbols and Sacred Traditions. Retrieved from http://ctl.w3.uvm.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/uvmtrees/whiteoak/whiteoaksymb…

Virginia Tech Dept. of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation. (2019). Virginia Tech Dendrology. Retrieved from http://dendro.cnre.vt.edu/dendrology/syllabus/factsheet.cfm?ID=35

“The Oak Tree, Quercus species.” Retrieved from https://www.caryinstitute.org/sites/default/files/public/downloads/curriculum-project/The_Oak_Tree_Facts.pdf

Gilman, Edward and Watson, Dennis. “Quercus alba.” Mature White Oak. White Oak. October 1994. Retrieved from http://hort.ufl.edu/trees/QUEALBA.pdf 

Media and Arts
A historic 600-year-old white oak tree was cut down, and this video pays homage to its memories, stories, and life.
“I Saw in Louisiana A Live-Oak Growing by Walt Whitman
I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing, 
All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches, 
Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves of dark green, 
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself, 
But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there without its friend near, for I knew I could not, 
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss, 
And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in my room, 
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends, 
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,) 
Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love; 
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana solitary in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near, 
I know very well I could not.”

Poetry Foundation. “I Saw in Louisana A Live-Oak Growing.” 2019. <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45471/i-saw-in-louisiana-a-live-oak-growing>.

For our final presentation of this tree, we wanted to let everyone share the experience of comfort and joy this tree brings, so we decidede to to a few things:

  • We will talk about the symbolism of the treee and what it has traditionally meant to people, specifically in the US, over the years
  • We will engage the class in a gratitude activity by asking them to paint their hands and use their hand print to make leaves on a tree that we have drawn on paper. As they do, we will ask them for something that they are grateful for as this will feed into the positive energy that radiates form this tree
  • We will then teach those who want to learn to climb part of the tree
  • Lastly, we will enjoy some chocolate bark that we made - the chocolate bark has a variety of topings and is a mixure of dark chocolate and white chocolate. This mixture respresents how the tree is not purely a white oak tree, but has mixed with other species of trees.