How to identify white oak characteristics without a magnifying lens.
Reference: Trees - Yearbook of Agriculture 1949
The White Oak Group native to North Carolina (USA) includes the White Oak, the Post Oak, the Chestnut Oak, the Swamp Chestnut Oak, the Chinquapin Oak, and the Overcup Oak. Non-native oaks in the group include the Swamp White Oak (northeastern quarter of the US and adjacent Canada), the Bur Oak (eastern half of US west to Montana and in adjacent Canada west to Saskatchewan), the Oregon White Oak (Pacific coast region from California to British Columbia), and the California White Oak (large tree of California).
White Oak characteristics that make the wood relatively easy to identify without the aid of a magnifying lens include:
1. pores are tiny rounded openings on smoothly cut end grain; fine grooves on planed side grain;
2. springwood pores are comparatively large forming a porous ring and decrease in size in the summerwood to practically or wholly invisible without magnification (annual rings);
3. summerwood is figured with light and dark irregular V-shaped radial patches; many of the rays are dark and conspicuous;
4. heartwood pores are large and mostly closed (chestnut oak is the exception).
White Oak wood ranges from heavy to very-heavy. It is slow growing and matures at a height anywhere from 60 to 90 feet. If it grows in the open, the crown will be broad, rounded and open.
The bark of the white oak is light gray and fissured into scaly ridges.
The oblong leaves can be from 4 to 9 inches long, and be deeply or shallowly lobed with 5 to 9 lobes. When mature, the leaves are bright green above and pale or whitish on the underside. They can turn to deep red in autumn, but they will fade into shades of brown.
The acorns measure 3/4 to 1 inch long, and they will have a shallow cup. (Normally, a white oak will not begin to bear acorns until it is about 50 years old. However, under exceptional circumstances, it may begin bearing as early as 20 years old.) Its acorns are prized by birds and many wild animals. It is normally not as bitter to the taste as is the red oak acorn. Indians and early settlers ground white oak acorns into flour.
The White Oak (Quercus alba) is the most important tree of the white oak group. It is a lumber tree of high-grade all-purpose wood, and it is superior to any other oak for tight barrels. It ranges in use from furniture to wood flooring and veneer to implement handles to boats.
The range of Quercus alba covers almost the entire eastern half of the United States - from eastern Minnesota down through eastern Texas and from Southern Maine through the Florida Panhandle. Only small areas of a few of the states contained therein are not hosts to the White Oak. It grows in moist or dry situations with a preference for rich soils.
The White Oak is the state tree of Connecticut, Illinois, and Maryland.
To see pictures of white oak wood and for additional information, please visit
The Wood Database - By Woodworkers, For Woodworkers - White Oak
I have included this link because Frank rarely uses white oak for woodworking and not at all for woodturning.
The bark of the Post Oak is reddish brown, or it might be grayish or light brown. It is fissured into broad, scaly ridges.
The leaves are oblong and can be from 4 to 8 inches long. They are usually wedge-shaped at the base and deeply 5-to-7 lobed (some are 3-lobed). They are broad, and the middle lobes are the broadest. The leaves are dark green and rough on top, and hairy and grayish on the bottom. Post Oak leaves turn brown in the fall.
The acorns are 1/2 to 1 inch long and are nearly half enclosed in the deep cup.
Post Oak is drought resistant and, as most trees in the white oak group, resistant to decay. However, one dangerous enemy of the Post Oak was the chestnut blight fungus. While this fungus destroyed the Chestnut tree population, it did not destroy the Post Oak. Some Post Oak trees did die slowly while others, exposed for a long period of time, remained healthy.
The principal uses for Post Oak are fence posts, railroad cross-ties, construction and mine timbers. It is also used for flooring, stair risers and treads, and trim molding. The bark is a source for tannin. Post Oak lumber is rated from heavy to very heavy.
The range of Quercus stellata includes all of the states in the US along the Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts south into the Florida Panhandle. It can be found in all of the states from the Florida Panhandle, west to mid-Texas, up through Oklahoma, into the southeast tip of Kansas, almost all of Missouri and into the southeast tip of Iowa. It ranges east across the southern portions of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio and covers all of Kentucky and Tennessee.
The Post Oak is a small to medium-sized tree in the white oak group (height: 40 to 60 feet).
You can learn more about the Post Oak
by going to
To see the characteristics of the wood,
look at a bowl turned from Post Oak
Chestnut Oak Bark and Leaf
Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1995. Northeast wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. Northeast National Technical Center, Chester.
Picture Above with permission
The bark of a Chestnut Oak ranges in color from brown to blackish. The bark becomes deeply furrowed into large ridges on older trunks.
This is either one very old Chestnut Oak tree or it is two or three trees grown together to give the appearance of great size. It is located in Iredell County, NC.
To see the bark of a Swamp Chestnut Oak, please click on the picture above. This will take you to Dave's Garden and an article by Sharon Brown.
The Chestnut Oak may be named Quercus prinus or Quercus montana. The names are often used interchangeably. In the pictures above, you can see that there is quite a lot of difference in the bark identified as Quercus prinus and the bark of the tree that I am calling Quercus montana. The 1949 Yearbook of Agriculture identifies Quercus prinus as Swamp Chestnut Oak. My picture identifies more closely with the overall description of Quercus montana than with Quercus prinus.
The Chestnut Oak leaf is oblong and can be from 5 to 9 inches long. The leaf in this picture measures 7 inches long. They may be short or long-pointed. The base may be narrow and pointed or rounded. The leaf edges are wavy with rounded teeth. They are shiny yellow green above and paler and hairy, or even nearly smooth, on the underside. They turn dull orange in the fall.
The acorns are large, any where from 1 to 1 1/2 inches long. About one-third to one-half is enclosed by a thick, deep, warty cup.
The Chestnut Oak has many names - Rock Chestnut Oak (MA, RI, PA, DE), Rock Oak (NY), Mountain Oak (AL), Basket Oak (Appalachians), Tanbark Oak (NC), and even Swampy Chestnut Oak (parts of NC). In the USA, it ranges from Maine, along the Atlantic seaboard, to Southeastern Virginia. It covers the central and western portion of Virginia and North Carolina, the western portion of South Carolina, north Georgia and north Alabama. It covers the middle and eastern region of Tennessee, almost all of Kentucky, the eastern portion of Ohio, and all of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. It also covers the southern half of New York.
The Chestnut Oak is marketed as a white oak, thus, it shares the aforementioned white oak characteristics - except number 4 - closed heartwood pores. In addition, the heartwood of the Chestnut Oak tree is more resistant to decay than any of the other white oaks.
It is mostly used for white oak lumber and railroad ties. The bark is a major source of tannin. Chestnut Oak is rated from heavy to very heavy.
The bark of the Overcup Oak is brownish gray and is fissured into large irregular, scaly ridges.
Overcup Oak leaves can be from 6 to 8 inches long. They are wedge shaped at the base and are deeply lobed almost to the middle with 7 to 9 rounded or pointed lobes. The 2 lowest lobes on each side are usually smaller. The leaves are dark green and smooth above. They are white and hairy beneath. They turn yellowish, orange or scarlet in the fall.
The acorns are from 1/2 to 1" long. The knobby, rough cup is unique in that it often encloses almost all of the nut.
The Overcup Oak, a moderate-sized tree, ranges from southern New Jersey to the Florida Panhandle covering the eastern half of Virginia, and North Carolina. It covers almost all of South Carolina (except the northwestern tip) and Georgia (except the northern edge). It covers all of Mississippi and Alabama and all but the southern edge of Louisanna. It ranges into east Texas, south and eastern Arkansas, southeastern Missouri, southern Illinois and the southern tip of Indiana. It is also found in west Tennessee and the southeast tip of Oklahoma. While the Overcup Oak has a wide range in the Southeastern United States, it is not very common.
The wood of the Overcup Oak is dark brown and heavy, hard and close-grained, it is very durable and is marketed as white oak lumber.
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In 2004, the Oak was designated the National Tree of the United States of America.