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A Floridata Plant Profile #1126 Quercus phellos
Common Names: willow oak
Family: Fagaceae (beech Family)
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tree  Attracts Birds For Wet, Boggy Areas Provides Autumn Color
willow oak
The stately willow oak is a beautiful choice for large scale landscapes.
willow oak leaves
The willow oak's lance shaped leaves are similar in size and shape to those of many of the willow species like black willow (Salix nigra).

Willow oak is a medium to large sized deciduous tree with lance shaped leaves that are quite willowlike, less than 1 in (2 cm) wide and 3-5 in (6-13 cm) long. The central vein (or midrib) of the leaf extends a little bit past the leaf tip as a tiny bristle. There are tufts of hairs in most of the axils between the midrib and the lateral veins on the undersides of the leaves. Leaf margins are entire and the petioles are very short. The acorns are in pairs or solitary, about a half inch (1 cm) long, with a cup that encloses only about one-fourth of the nut. Acorns mature in their second season. Willow oaks can get as tall as 130 ft (39 m), but are more commonly 40-60 ft (12-18 m) tall. The largest known (National Champions) include a 132 ft (13 m) tall behemoth near Noxubee, Mississippi.

Willow oak is very similar looking to laurel oak (Q. hemisphaerica) but the latter has generally wider leaves and lacks the tufts of hairs in the axils between the central and lateral veins on the undersides of the leaves.

Quercus phellos occurs along streams, in bottomlands and in wet woods (sometimes spreading into adjacent fields and fence rows) from Long Island to East Texas. Willow oak is largely absent from the Appalachians, southeast Georgia and the Florida peninsula.

Light: Willow oak can grow in full sun to partial shade.
Moisture: Willow oak tolerates moist soils, but not if they are constantly water logged.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 6-9.
Propagation: For best results, sow acorns outside as soon as they ripen in autumn, and expect germination the following spring.

willow oak
Willow oak leaves and bark

Willow oaks are often planted along avenues and in larger lawns and parks. Michael Dirr, the famous plantsman from the University of Georgia, considers the willow oak to be the finest oak for form and overall appearance. Trees grown in the forest have long, straight boles, but those grown in the open have a shorter trunk and a dense, broad and rounded crown. These are relatively fast growing trees and have few pest or disease problems. In autumn, the leaves turn shades of yellow, orange and red. The wood is not especially of high quality and is mainly used for fuel and local applications. As with other oaks, the acorns are an important source of food for wildlife, and willow oaks tend to produce abundant crops.

The oaks can be divided into two major groups: members of the white oak group have rounded leaf lobes and tips, and edible acorns that mature in one year; members of the red oak group have bristles on the leaf lobes and tips, and bitter acorns that take two years to mature. Willow oak is in the red oak group.

Steve Christman 1/3/11

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