Quercus alba, the white oak, is one of the pre-eminent hardwoods of eastern North America. It is a long-lived oak of the Fagaceae family, native to eastern North America and found from southern Quebec west to eastern Minnesota and south to northern Florida and eastern Texas. Specimens have been documented to be over 450 years old. 
Although called a white oak, it is very unusual to find an individual specimen with white bark; the usual color is a light gray. In the forest it can reach a magnificent height and in the open it develops into a massive broad-topped tree with large branches striking out at wide angles.
Tender spring white oak leaves are pink.
Fallen acorns from prolific tree
Hedgehog gall on white oak
Large white oak at old house site
Normally not a very tall tree, typically reaching 65–85 feet (19.5-25.5 m) at maturity, it nonetheless becomes quite massive and its lower branches are apt to extend 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, but specimens growing at high altitudes may only become small shrubs. White oaks have been known to live up to six hundred years. The bark is a light ash-gray and peels somewhat from the top, bottom and/or sides.
In spring the young leaves are of a delicate, silvery pink and covered with a soft, blanket-like down. 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. This condition continues for several days, passing through the opalescent changes of soft pink, silvery white and finally yellow green.
The leaves grow to be 5-8.5 inches long and 2.75-4.5 inches wide and have a deep glossy green upper surface. They 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. Some brown, dead leaves may remain on the tree throughout winter until very early spring. The lobes can be shallow, extending less than half-way to the midrib, or deep and somewhat branching. The acorns are usually sessile, and grow to 0.5-1 inch in length, falling in early October.
Quercus alba 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.
- Bark: Light gray, varying to dark gray and to white; shallow fissured and scaly. Branchlets at first bright green, later reddish-green and finally light gray. A distinguishing feature of this tree is that a little over half way up the trunk the bark tends to form overlapping scales that are easily noticed and aid in identification.
- Wood: Light brown with paler sapwood; strong, tough, heavy, fine-grained and durable. Specific gravity, 0.7470; weight of one cubic foot, 46.35 lbs; weight of one cubic meter 770 kg.
- Winter buds: Reddish brown, obtuse, one-eighth of an inch long.
- Leaves: Alternate, five to nine inches long, three to four inches wide. Obovate or oblong, seven to nine-lobed, usually seven-lobed with rounded lobes and rounded sinuses; lobes destitute of bristles; sinuses sometimes deep, sometimes shallow. On young trees the leaves are often repand. They come out of the bud conduplicate, are bright red above, pale below, and covered with white tomentum; the red fades quickly and they become silvery greenish white and shiny; when full grown they are thin, bright yellow green, shiny or dull above, pale, glaucous or smooth below; the midrib is stout and yellow, primary veins are conspicuous. In late autumn the leaves turn a deep red and drop, or on young trees remain on the branches throughout the winter. Petioles are short, stout, grooved, and flattened. Stipules are linear and caducous.
- Flowers: appear in May, when leaves are one-third grown. Staminate flowers are borne in hairy aments two and a half to three inches long; the calyx is bright yellow, hairy, six to eight-lobed, with lobes shorter than the stamens; anthers are yellow. Pistillate flowers are borne on short peduncles; involucral scales are hairy, reddish; calyx lobes are acute; stigmas are bright red.
- Acorns: Annual, sessile or stalked; nut ovoid or oblong, round at the apex, light brown, shining, three-quarters to an inch long; cup-shaped, enclose about one-fourth of the nut, tomentose on the outside, tuberculate at base, scales with short obtuse tips becoming smaller and thinner toward the rim.
The white oak is fairly tolerant of a variety of habitats, and may be found on ridges, in valleys, and in between, in dry and moist habitats, and in moderately acid and alkaline soils. It is mainly a lowland tree, but reaches altitudes of 5,249 ft in the Appalachian Mountains. It is often a component of the forest canopy in an oak-heath forest.
The white oak makes an outstanding shade tree, with an exceptionally wide spread and almost never dropping limbs. However, it does not tolerate urban conditions well due to an intolerance of soil compaction and changes in soil levels. It may thrive in residential neighborhoods where protected from such change.
White oak has tyloses that give the wood a closed cellular structure, making it water- and rot-resistant. Because of this characteristic, white oak is used for barrels for wine and whiskey production since it resists leaking. It has also been used in construction, shipbuilding, cooperage, agricultural implements, and in the interior finishing of houses.
It was a signature wood used in mission style oak furniture by Gustav Stickley in the Craftsman style of the Arts and Crafts movement.
White oak is used extensively in Japanese martial arts for some weapons, such as the bokken and jo. It is valued for its density, strength, resiliency and relatively low chance of splintering if broken by impact, relative to the substantially cheaper red oak.
The acorns are much less bitter than the acorns of red oaks. They are small relative to most oaks, but are a valuable wildlife food, notably for turkeys, wood ducks, pheasants, grackles, jays, nuthatches, thrushes, woodpeckers, rabbits, squirrels and deer. They were also used for food by Native Americans. The white oak is the only known food plant of the Bucculatrix luteella and Bucculatrix ochrisuffusa caterpillars.
The young shoots of many eastern oak species are readily eaten by deer. Dried oak leaves are also occasionally eaten by white-tailed deer in the fall or winter. Rabbits often browse twigs and can girdle stems.
The USS Constitution is made of white oak, and reconstructive wood replacement comes from a special grove of Quercus alba known as the "Constitution Grove" at Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division.
Woodworkers should be aware that ferrous metal hardware reacts with oak, causing corrosion and staining the wood. Brass or stainless steel fittings should be used instead.
White oak has served as the official state tree of Illinois after selection by a vote of school children. There are two "official" white oaks serving as state trees, one located on the grounds of the governor's mansion, and the other in a schoolyard in the town of Rochelle. The white oak is also the state tree of Connecticut and Maryland. The Wye Oak, probably the oldest living white oak until it fell because of a thunderstorm on June 6, 2002, was the honorary state tree of Maryland.
Being the subject of a legend as old as the colony itself, the Charter Oak of Hartford, Connecticut is one of the most famous white oaks in America. An image of the tree now adorns the reverse side of the Connecticut state quarter.
 See also
- Linden Oak, possibly the largest living white oak in the United States
- ^ "Quercus alba", NatureServe Explorer (NatureServe), http://www.natureserve.org/explorer/servlet/NatureServe?searchName=Quercus+alba+, retrieved 2007-07-06
- ^ http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~adk/oldlisteast/#spp
- ^ a b c d e Keeler, Harriet L. (1900). Our Native Trees and How to Identify Them. New York: Charles Scriber's Sons. pp. 328–332. ISBN 0873388380.
- ^ Niche Timbers White Oak
- ^ The Natural Communities of Virginia Classification of Ecological Community Groups (Version 2.3), Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, 2010
- ^ Schafale, M. P. and A. S. Weakley. 1990. Classification of the natural communities of North Carolina: third approximation. North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.
- ^ a b Houston, David R. 1971. Noninfectious diseases of oaks. In: Oak symposium: Proceedings; 1971 August 16–20; Morgantown, WV. Upper Darby, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station: 118-123. 
- ^ Van Lear, David H.; Johnson, Von J. 1983. Effects of prescribed burning in the southern Appalachian and upper Piedmont forests: a review. Forestry Bull. No. 36. Clemson, SC: Clemson University, Collage of Forest and Recreation Resources, Department of Forestry. 8 p. 
- ^ "Materials on USS Constitution". San Francisco National Maritime Park Association. http://www.maritime.org/conf/conf-otton-mat.htm. Retrieved 2011_07-24.