Height: 50 to 90 feet.
Lifespan: Up to 150 years; fairly short-lived for an oak.
Fall Foliage: Relatively nice fall color, ranging from bronze to reddish-yellow.
Range: A tree of the coastal plain, ranging from Maryland to Texas. Also found in the piedmont, but absent from the Appalachian Mountains.
Typical Habitat: Typically found in fairly moist bottomland habitats, but also planted widely, so it is sometimes seen in more upland habitats, including residential and commercial properties.
The Willow Oak: An Important Oak of Lowland Habitats
The willow oak – like almost all other oaks – is an important food source for wildlife. And this is especially true of birds and rodents who prefer living near the bottom of local watersheds, where the willow oak thrives. In fact, willow oaks have some tolerance for standing water, and are often found in riparian areas and surrounding swamps.
Like most other red oaks, the acorns of willow oaks take two years to mature. They’re also bitterer than those of the white oak group. However, they do not decay quickly, and therefore provide a good food source late into the winter.
Identification: Tips & Tricks
You’re most likely to confuse the willow oak with other willows — particularly the black willow (Nigra salix). However, willow oak leaves have bristle tips (like all members of the red oak group), which willow leaves lack. Also, some willow leaves will tend to have serrations (“teeth”) around the margin, whereas these are absent from willow oak leaves.
It’s probably possible to confuse slender water oak (Quercus nigra) leaves with willow oak leaves, thus illustrating the importance of considering several leaves when trying to identify a tree.
The Willow Oak: Additional Information
Need more info on the willow oak? Check out these top-notch resources to learn more.
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Fantastic quick reference that also includes a good range map.
- NC State Extension: Basic information on the willow oak, along with a ton of photos (including buds, bark, and catkins).
- Cal Poly Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute: A western perspective on these trees, with growing notes and photos.