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Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)

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Swamp White Oak


A large white oak favoring wet habitats.

Range - Expand

Native or Not Present

This map is based on our research. We have checked its accuracy to Level 3 ecoregions. Although this plant occurs somewhere in each of these regions, it may only occur in a small part of some or all of them.

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White Oak (Quercus alba)
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Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
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Found in forested wetlands and swamp margins, floodplain forests, and in low-lying depressions and where clay soil prevents drainage.

Prefers lowland and poorly-drained habitats ranging from wet to mesic, and with acidic soils, but adaptable to a range of conditions, including silt and clay soils, loam, and sand. Sandy and well-drained soils are tolerated on sites with sufficient moisture, especially sites that flood regularly. Moderately shade tolerant when young, and replaces early successional species, such as elm and ash, on wet sites in the absence of disturbance. On well-drained sites, usually eventually replaced by other more shade-tolerant species such as hickory or beech. Intolerant of severe drought but more drought tolerant than some wetland tree species. Often found on sites that are flooded in spring but dry in summer. Moderately tolerant of fire.

Usually a minor component of forests in which it occurs, but can be a co-dominant tree, often with pin oak (Quercus palustris), in swamps in the midwest, and also with American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) farther south. This forest type is considered vulnerable due to habitat destruction.

Life Cycle

Seeds germinate directly after fall, without a period of cold dormancy, and quickly establish a taproot. However, over time, the tree develops a two-tiered root system, in which fine surface roots are utilized for aeration in times of flooding and high water tables, and deeper roots supply water when the water table is lower. This adaptation allows this tree to live longer than other species, such as silver maple, that inhabit the same habitat, as other species often rely on rapidly regrowing roots damaged by flooding whereas this species relies on a more permanent root system.

Young trees tolerate some shade but larger trees require more sun.

Growth is more rapid than most species of the white oak group. Seed production usually begins at 20-30 years of age, peaks around 70-100 years. Trees can live 300-350 years.

Produces large acorn crops every 4-7 years. Dying trees also produce a large seed crop.

When top-killed, such as by fire, young trees resprout from the root system.


Occasionally used as a shade tree or landscaping plant, where it is valued for its bicolor leaves and wide adaptability. Highly tolerant of urban conditions, including soil compaction, but sometimes difficult to transplant and slow to establish. Once established, this tree makes an excellent landscaping plant for moist and poorly-drained sites, and is probably under-utilized. It is often a superior replacement for silver maple in urban areas and around homes, as it is longer-lived and less prone to dropping limbs.

Closely related to and able to hybridize with white oak (Quercus alba) to produce Quercus √ójackiana, post oak (Quercus stellata), overcup oak (Quercus lyrata), and bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa).

Swamp White Oak | The Wood Database (About This Site)

Swamp White Oak | Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) (About This Site)

Quercus bicolor (Swamp White Oak) | Illinois Wildflowers (About This Site)

Quercus bicolor (Swamp White Oak) | USDA PLANTS Database (About This Site)

Quercus bicolor | Go Botany (About This Site)

Swamp White Oak | iNaturalist (About This Site)

Quercus bicolor (Swamp White Oak) | Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder (About This Site)

Swamp White Oak | Virginia Tech Dendrology Factsheets (About This Site)

Swamp White Oak | Silvics of North America (About This Site)

Quercus bicolor | Biota of North America Project (BONAP) (About This Site)

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