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Home > Resources > North Carolina Trees > Water Oak

Water Oak

(Quercus nigra L.)


Water oak grows naturally along the borders of swamps and streams and on rich bottomlands from the Coastal Plain into the foothills of the mountains. It often is planted along streets and in parks as a shade tree.

Water oak leaves are small (2 to 4 inches long) and are considerably broader at the tip than at the base. Leaves vary in shape but usually show three indistinct lobes. They are deciduous, but they remain on the tree into early winter.

The acorn is small (usually 1/2 inch or less long) and almost black. The bark, at first, is smooth and brown but becomes gray-black with rough scaly ridges with age.

The water oak can be most readily distinguished from the willow oak -- a close but longer-lived relative -- by the differences in the shapes and sizes of their leaves.

On good sites, the tree has a slender, straight trunk and reaches a height of 50 to 80 feet or more with a diameter of 2 to 3 feet. Water oak is easily damaged or killed by fire.

The wood is not considered good for finished lumber, because it cracks and splits excessively when drying. However, it is used for rough construction lumber and uses such as support beams, where strength is most important.

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