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Intro to Trees of Indiana: Swamp White Oak

The classic and trusted book "Fifty Common Trees of Indiana" by T.E. Shaw was published in 1956 as a user-friendly guide to local species.  Nearly 70 years later, the publication has been updated through a joint effort by the Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Indiana 4-H, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and reintroduced as "An Introduction to Trees of Indiana."

A printed copy of the full publication is available for purchase for $7 in the Purdue Extension Education Store. The field guide helps identify common Indiana woodlot trees. 

Each week, the Intro to Trees of Indiana web series will offer a sneak peek at one species from the book, paired with an ID That Tree video from Purdue Extension forester Lenny Farlee to help visualize each species as it stands in the woods. Threats to species health as well as also insight into the wood provided by the species, will be provided through additional resources as well as the Hardwoods of the Central Midwest exhibit of the Purdue Arboretum, if available. Line drawing of a swamp white oak leaf

This week, we take a look at the third of our oak varieties in Indiana, the Swamp White Oak or Quercus bicolor.

The swamp white oak has leaves with wavy, uneven lobed margins with blunt teeth, which are wider toward the tip than at the base. The alternately-held leaves are typically dark green on top with a silvery-white underside, which turn orange, gold and yellow in the fall.

The bark on swamp white oak is similar to that of white oak and often peels back especially on younger trees. Mature bark is dark gray-brown with flaky/shreddy bark or blocky ridges that are consistent up and down the tree.   

The fruit of the swamp white oak is an acorn held on a long stalk, typically an inch or inch and a half long, called a peduncle.

Swamp white oaks, which grow to 50 to 60 feet tall, are named for the fact that they often grow in wet places, such asLine drawing of swamp white oak acorns and peduncle. upland swamps and lowlands. This species also can tolerate well-drained upland sites, making it a good option for landscape plantings. The natural range of swamp white oak is the northern half of the eastern United States, reaching as far south as Missouri, southern Illinois and Kentucky, and north into Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The Morton Arboretum warns to plant swamp white oak in full sun and shares that the species is one of the easiest oaks to transplant and is more tolerant of poor drainage than other oaks. It also notes that oaks should be pruned in the dormant season to avoid attracting beetles that may carry oak wilt. Swamp white oak can be affected by pests such as anthracnose, powdery mildew, chlorosis in high pH soils, insect galls and oak wilt.  

In general, lumber from the white oak group is among the heaviest next to hickory, weighing in at 47 pounds per cubic foot. It is very resistant to decay and is one of the best woods for steam bending.

White oak lumber has been used for a variety of purposes including log cabins, ships, wagon wheels and furniture. It also is preferred for indoor decorative applications ranging from furniture, especially in churches, to cabinets, interior trim, millwork and hardwood flooring and veneers. It also may be used for barrel making. 

Its density and durability make white oak a favorite for industrial applications such as railroad ties, mine timbers, sill plates, fence posts and boards, pallets, and blocking, as well as industrial, agricultural and truck flooring.

Other Resources:
ID That Tree: Swamp White Oak
ID That Tree: White Oak Group
Hardwood Lumber and Veneer Series: White Oak Group
Morton Arboretum: Swamp White Oak
Fifty Trees of the Midwest app for the iPhone, The Education Store
Native Trees of the Midwest, The Education Store
Shrubs and Woody Vines of Indiana and the Midwest, The Education Store
Investing in Indiana Woodlands, The Education Store
Forest Improvement Handbook, The Education Store
ID That Tree, Purdue Extension-Forestry & Natural Resources (FNR) YouTube playlist
Woodland Management Moment , Purdue Extension-FNR YouTube playlist

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