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TREES & plants

Swamp white oak

Swamp white oak in fall color.

Swamp white oak is a striking tree with attractive peeling bark, especially on young trees. The lustrous, lobed leaves have a two-tone appearance, dark green on top with a silvery-white underside. Fall color is an orange-gold to yellow in mid-autumn. An excellent shade tree for any landscape. "This species is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research."  

Botanical name: 
Quercus bicolor
All Common Names: 
swamp white oak
Family (English): 
Beech; Oak
Family (Botanic): 
Fagaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks
  • City parkway
  • Wide median
  • Restricted sites
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen
  • Shade
  • Parkway/street
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)
Mature Height: 
50-60 feet
Mature Width: 
50-60 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Intolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Tolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Tolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • Messy fruit/plant parts
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Fall color
Season of Interest: 
  • Early winter
  • Mid winter
  • Mid fall
  • Late fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Round
  • Spreading
Growth Rate: 
  • Moderate
Transplants Well: 
  • Yes
Wildlife: 
  • Game birds
  • Game mammals
  • Migrant birds
  • Small mammals
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

One of the easiest oaks to transplant and more tolerant of poor drainage than other oaks.

Avoid high pH soils or plants may develop chlorotic (yellowing ) leaves.

Tolerant of salt, drought and heat.

Prune oaks in the dormant season to avoid attracting beetles that may carry oak wilt.

Disease, pests, and problems

Anthracnose, occasional powdery mildew, chlorois in high pH soils, and insect galls.

Disease, pests, and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value:  6

Bark color and texture 

Mature bark is a dark gray-brown with blocky ridges,. Young trees develop a flaky, peeling bark that reveals an orange inner bark.

Summer foliage of swamp white oak.Swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor)photo: John Hagstrom

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate, simple, rounded to coarsely lobed leaves with variable wavy margins. Dark green above with silvery-white underside.  Leaves turn to golden or orange brown in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Male flowers hang in clusters of catkins.

Female flowers are inconspicuous, tiny spikes in leaf axils.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Acorns are 1 inch long and enclosed halfway with a warty cap. The cap often remains attached to a stalk (peduncle) once the fruit is ripe and falls from the tree.