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collage of Water Oak and Willow Oak

Water Oak (Quercus nigra) vs. Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)

Updated August 25th, 2022

Water oak and willow oak are often confused; they grow together in bottomlands in the southeastern US, and have similar growth habits, bark, and acorns, and both have leaves that lack the lobing of typical oak leaves. They are easily distinguished by differences in their leaves, but they also have subtle differences in acorns and bark. Water oak prefers sites slightly better-drained than willow oak, and is also found on a wider range of sites, sometimes occurring on mesic uplands; willow oak is rare on uplands, only occurring locally on poorly-drained sites.

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