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QUERCUS nigra

Image of Quercus nigra

Gerald L. Klingaman

Family

Fagaceae

Botanical Name

QUERCUS nigra

Plant Common Name

Water Oak

General Description

Adaptable to many landscape situations, the water oak is a large deciduous shade tree that showers the ground with acorns in autumn. This native of the southeastern United States is well-adapted to lowlands and floodplains, which makes it better able to withstand soil compaction and oddly enough, drought. Young trees adopt a broadly conical crown but mature specimens develop a full, rounded canopy and smooth brown bark that eventually becomes dark gray and lightly furrowed with age.

The variable leaves are wedge-like with three subtle lobes at the ends, almost like duck's feet. They are green to dark green with a bluish cast, and their undersides are lighter. Once the leaves emerge in spring, the branch tips yield lots of pendent pollen-shedding male flowers, called catkins. They are followed by tiny round female flowers that appear at the base of the new leaves. This oak produces copious acorns, which are marble-sized and dark brown with specks of tan. They are quickly spread and buried by squirrels and often germinate the following season. The fall foliage color is dull yellow-brown, and the dried leaves linger on the branches into winter.

Water oak will grow in practically any soil, from wet to quite dry and acid to lightly alkaline. Younger trees will tolerate partial sun but mature specimens need full. Disadvantages of this tree include its self-sowing nature, susceptibility to oak wilt disease and tendency to have limb damage during ice and windstorms. Still, it is a quick-growing shade tree that thrives in poor soils. It is best planted in open parks, natural areas or large garden spaces, ideally away from walkways or streets where its acorn litter will not be a problem.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    9 - 7

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    6 - 9

  • Plant Type

    Tree

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    50'-80' / 15.2m - 24.4m

  • Width

    50'-80' / 15.2m - 24.4m

  • Bloom Time

    Spring

  • Native To

    United States, Mid-Atlantic United States, Southeastern United States, South-Central United States, Texas

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral

  • Soil Drainage

    Average

  • Soil type

    Clay, Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances

    Wet Site, Pollution, Soil Compaction

  • Growth Rate

    Fast

  • Water Requirements

    Drought Tolerant, Average Water

  • Habit

    Oval/Rounded

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Insignificant

  • Flower Color

    Red, Light Green, Chartreuse

  • Fruit Color

    Tan, Chocolate

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green, Light Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green, Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Yellow, Brown

  • Bark Color

    Brown, Chocolate, Gray

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    No

  • Foliage Texture

    Medium

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    No

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Smooth

  • Usage

    Shade Trees

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    Sometimes

  • Attracts

    Birds

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes