White oak (Quercus alba) is an outstanding tree among all trees and is widespread across eastern North America. The most important lumber tree of the white oak group, growth is good on all but the driest shallow soils. Its high-grade wood is useful for many things, an important one being staves for barrels, hence the name stave oak. The acorns are an important food for many kinds of wildlife.
THE TREE: White oaks can reach a height of 125 ft (38 m), with large diameters. The bark is pale grey, scaly, but not deeply fissured. The leaves are 5 to 9 inches in length and about half as broad; crowded towards ends of twigs; deeply divided into 5 to 9 lobes; becoming light green above and much paler below; sometimes they remain on tree most of the winter.
WOOD CHARACTERISTICS: The sapwood of white oak is white to very light brown, while the heartwood is light to dark brown. Oak wood has a course texture; it is heavy, straight-grained, hard, tough, very stiff, and strong. Fast-grown oak, with wide rings, is stronger and heavier than slow-grown oak.
White oak wood is heavy, hard, strong, and durable. When properly dried treated, oak wood glues well, machines very well and accepts a variety of finishes.
White oak is the most important timber oak and is commercially important throughout much of the South and East. White oak is an important source of wood for furniture, veneer, paneling, and flooring. It has been used to make railroad ties, fenceposts, mine timbers, ships, and caskets. White oak has long been used in cooperage and is currently the major source of wood for whiskey barrels. White oak wood has also been used as a source of clapboard shingles and woven baskets, although demands for these products are decreasing. Its high fuel value makes white oak an attractive firewood.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: White oak grows throughout much of the eastern United States from southwest Maine to northern Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. It extends westward throughout southern Ontario and Quebec into central Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and southeastern Minnesota and south to southwestern Iowa, eastern Kansas, eastern Oklahoma, and eastern Texas.
The best growing conditions for white oak occur on the western slope of the Appalachian Mountains and in the Ohio Valley and central Mississippi Valley. White oak is mostly absent from conifer-dominated stands at higher elevations within the Appalachian Mountains and from the lower Mississippi Delta and coastal areas of Texas and Louisiana.