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White Oak (Quercus alba)

Quercus alba , the White Oak , is one of the pre-eminent hardwoods of eastern North America. It is a long-lived oak in the family Fagaceae , native to eastern North America , from southern Quebec west to eastern Minnesota , and south to northern Florida and eastern Texas . Specimens are known to have lived over 600 years. The oldest tree in North Carolina is a White Oak found at Tanglewood Park.

Although called the white oak it is very unusual to find an individual with white bark; the usual color is an light gray. In the forest it reaches a magnificent height. In the open it develops into a massive broad-topped tree with great limbs striking out at wide angles.

Normally not a very tall tree, typically 65-85 feet (19.5-25.5 m) tall at maturity, it nonetheless becomes quite massive and its lower branches are apt to reach far out laterally parallel to the ground. The tallest known white oak is 144 feet (43 m) tall. It is not unusual for a white oak tree to be as wide as it is tall. Conversely, specimens at high altitude may only be small shrubs. White oaks have been known to live up to eight hundred years. The bark is a light ash-gray and somewhat peeling, variously from the top, bottom and/or sides.

In spring the young leaves are exquisite in their delicate silvery pink, covered with soft down as with a blanket. The petioles are short, and the leaves which cluster close to the ends of the shoots are pale green and downy with the result that the entire tree has a misty, frosty look which is very beautiful. This lovely vision continues for several days passing through the opalescent changes of soft pink, silvery white and finally yellow green.

The leaves grow to 5-8.5 in long and 2.75-4.5 in broad, with a deep glossy green upper surface. The leaves usually turn red or brown in autumn, but depending on climate, site, and individual tree genetics, some trees are nearly always red, or even purple in autumn, others turn straight to a brown. Some brown, dead leaves may remain on the tree throughout winter until very early spring. They are variably lobed; sometimes the lobes are shallow, extending less than half-way to the midrib, but sometimes they are deeply lobed, with the lobes somewhat branching. The acorns are usually sessile, and grow to .5-1 in long, falling in early October.

It is sometimes confused with the Swamp white oak , a closely-related species, and the Bur oak . The White oak hybridizes freely with the Bur oak , the Post oak , and the Chestnut oak .

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