Species: White oak
Scientific name: Quercus alba
Nicknames: Stave oak
Claim to fame: White oak trees, which are common throughout Missouri, are important in both the industrial and natural worlds. The white oak’s value as a material source for flooring, furniture, cabinets and barrel staves is one of the reasons Missouri’s forest product industry contributes $8 billion to the state’s economy each year. White oaks are also valuable habitat component in Missouri. The abundance of acorns they produce is a primary source of food in fall and winter for many wildlife species. The white oak is the state tree of Connecticut, Illinois, and Maryland.
Species status: White oak trees are common throughout most of Missouri.
First discovered: The first scientific description of the white oak was written by the famed naturalist Carl Linnaeus.
Family matters: The white oak belongs to the tree family Fagaceae, a group of species commonly known as the beech family.
Height: up to 120 feet
Flowers: White oaks (as is the case with all North American oak species) flower in early spring as new leaves are expanding. Male and female flowers appear on the same tree. Male flowers appear in cylindrical drooping clusters called catkins. Female flowers are small and few in number, emerging from the axils of leaves. Female flowers are wind-pollinated by the pollen produced from the male flowers. (This is the yellowish dust-like substance that coats parked automobiles and gives misery to a number of allergy sufferers each spring.).
Seeds/fruits: The acorns of the white oak can be up to an inch long. As mentioned above, these acorns are a main source of food for several wildlife species. When acorn production is poor, numbers of acorn-dependent animals often decrease in that area, too. Several Native American tribes made a type of flour from acorns.
Distinguishing characteristics: White oaks have leaves that alternate on the branches. Leaves are 5 inches-9 inches long; 2 inches-4 inches wide. Leaves have 6-10 lobes with rounded tips. The white oak gets its name from its pale gray bark.
Annual/biennial/perennial: Like all trees, white oaks are perennials.
Habitat: White oaks can be found in a number of locations, but in natural settings, they seem to have a preference for northeast-facing slopes and ridges as well as ravine bottoms and the low ground of valley areas.
Life cycle: After flowering and pollination occurs in the spring, oak trees begin to grow small, scale-covered acorns – which are called “nubbins” in their early stage. These acorns develop during the course of the summer and drop in the fall. Although oak trees produce hundreds of thousands of acorns over the course of their lives, their success rate is actually extremely small. Studies have shown that, in the average natural setting (one that doesn’t have human interference), one out of every 10,000 acorns an oak tree produces grows into a tree.
Species of the week: White oak
Species: White oak