by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
There are about as many different species of Oak trees as there are different breeds of dogs. There are oak hybrids; red oaks, white oaks, and each of those break down into many sub species. One oak tree that is usually overlooked because of its simple leaf shape is the Willow Oak. Quercus phellos is a member of the Fagaceae family and is defined by its unique is a member of the Fagaceae family and is defined by its unique physical characteristics, habitat, and uses.
The Willow oak is a tall tree with a very straight trunk. It can reach 90-100 feet tall but its DBH usually reaches 3-4 feet. It starts out as a tree with a small crown, but as it matures, the crown becomes fuller and will be a perfect oval at maturity. The leaves are somewhat similar to water oak but instead of a spoon shape, they stay narrow and come to a fine a point. The bark is grayish brown and is smooth as a juvenile, but becomes rougher with age. Because it is a red oak, the Willow oak produces acorns in the second year after they bloom and they germinate in the spring. It also has a leaf with a pointed tip because it is a red oak.
Quercus phellos can be found in low-lying wet sites as well upland sites too. It can tolerate saturated soils or dryer soils. It is most commonly found along roadsides and sidewalks, especially in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. The “perfect” shape of the tree makes it an aesthetically pleasing tree. Unfortunately, it becomes too big for many sidewalks and causes sidewalks to crack and deteriorate. In neighborhoods, it is planted for shade and its brilliant green leaves. The Willow oak can withstand both sun and shade, making it a very desirable tree for homeowners. The Willow oak is most commonly found along the gulf coast as well as areas up the East coast.
The Willow oak wood has the same uses as red oak: paper, pulp and lumber production. The acorns produce plenty of nutrition for squirrels, deer, turkey, and birds. The Willow oak is easily transplanted and can grow up to 2 feet a year! Many large cities that are experiencing sidewalk damage from this species have developed rubber sidewalks to provide some “growing room” for this very tall tree.
If you want to plant a tree that is easy on the eyes, but also beneficial to wildlife you should really consider Q. phellos. The leaves will not overrun your yard in the fall and it will provide plenty of shade in the summertime!
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