Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tuesday's Trees- Willow Oak

When we first moved to this area I had a little knowledge of trees. (who am I kidding? I had none!!) A tree that is prevalent in our area has narrow leaves, is an oak, and is incorrectly called a Pin Oak.  I suppose the name has stuck because of the 'pin' shape of the leaf. The leaf of the Willow Oak, Quercus phellos, is a narrow blade approximately 2 to 5 inches in length. It is very similar to the willow tree's leaf. The dark green leaf turns yellow-brown in the fall. It is not a very showy autumn color.   The underside is smooth and light green.  The margins are smooth.


The Willow Oak is a straight and tall tree in the landscape. At maturity it can be upwards of 80- 100 feet tall. It has a spreading growth pattern with upward growing scaffolding maturing to a rounded crown. Notice the limbs in both of the photos of the entire tree.

The acorns are small, round with caps that cover about 1/4 of the nut. This picture was tough to get as the acorns were up in the tree...so not the clearest photo, I apologize.

The bark is gray and smooth when the tree is young and developes ridges as it ages.

This tree was trimmed to be away from the utility lines. Since the front half of the limbs are trimmed you can see the vase shaped growth of the limbs.

Now for some of the good online references. Virginia Tech tree ID, US Forestry Service, Missouri Botanical Garden, North Carolina State University, and finally Vanderbilt University.

Some additional links thanks to Phillip at how it grows.... some of the remarkable trees of Virginia. Gloucester
Fall colors-

From swamp chestnut oak swamp white oak Learning Garden

From swamp chestnut oak swamp white oak Learning Garden

Next week's tree-- Little Leaf Linden


  1. Hi Janet, thanks for showcasing this hard working tree. It is planted frequently here because of its lack of problems with pests and disease, fast growth for an oak and drought tolerance. I love the leave shape too. If one wants a nice shade tree with leaves that will not be a problem to rake, this is the one. Used extensively in new subdivisions.

  2. It's a huge tree, as I can see from the pictures! I'll be interested to see a linden tree, since linden honey is my favorite (from the type of linden with aromatic white flowers).

  3. I may have one of these. I need to get into my tree identification book better. If it is not this then it is similar but I love it because the leaves hang on nearly all winter.

    We were looking for those 'berries' when I did identify a tree I have that has other berries-a black tupelo. It is cool. I look forward to the linden tree. A friend of mine has one in her yard. They are not real common here but just this year Rural King had them for sale.

  4. For someone who had no knowledge of trees, you've come a long way! This was very interesting.

  5. It has great shape. Really enjoying this series!!

  6. Great job on the tree articles! I recently visited the state champion Willow Oak in Gloucester, but some one else was driving so I can't tell you where it was.

  7. I push this tree at the nursery because of its ease of growth and sturdy utilitarian character. You may not get there often, but in southern Va. Beach (old Princess Anne Co.) there are massive specimens around the old farm houses. I also like how they have been used at ODU over the years.

  8. It's a great huge tree. I wonder if the bark can be used as a medium for planting orchid?


  9. Hi Frances, so glad you like this tree. I like it as well. We have many many many planted in our area.

    Hi Tatyana, It does get quite tall. We have some in our neighborhood that are about 50- 75 years old. Stay tuned for the Little Leaf Linden.

    Hi Tina, If yours holds on to its leaves through the majority of the winter it could be a Live Oak.

    Hi Daffodil Planter, I have come a long long way!! Curiosity is good!

    Hi Ginger, It does have a very nice shape. Great tree.

    Hi Phillip, I went to the remarkable trees of Virginia and found a long list of Willow Oak,three of them in Gloucester. I have added them to the posting.

    Hi Les, It is an easy tree. I imagine there are some very old ones all over this area.

    Hi Blossom, welcome -- it could be used for orchids. The word phellos is Greek for cork like...so perhaps there is a connection.

  10. I remember having to rake the leaves of this tree when I was a kid. I hated it. They are many and hard to gather in a pile. You have to rake forever.

    Then my dad would burn them and add the ashes to our garden. I guess the ashes are very alkaline and it helped the acidic soil. But these leaves are leathery and if left to compost could take years. So he burned them and we roasted marshmallows--that was the reward.

  11. I've never noticed this tree before, I wonder if we have them around here and I just wasn't looking. I love the ridges of the bark, such great texture.
    Thanks for the ongoing tree education! Keep it coming.

  12. With its different leaves, I never would have guessed this was a type of oak. I've learned that identifying trees is not as simple as I once thought when I started trying to identify all the trees around my house. You're doing a great job of helping to educate me, Janet!

  13. It is a beautiful tree. The canopy is not to dense, therefore growing shrubs underneath is still possible. It will definitely give nice shade for a good rest after a hard day... ~bangchik

  14. A very fine oak tree! If I didn't already have a yard full of oaks...this would be added. I wish our trimmers were as kind to our trees as your trimmers seem to be with yours! gail

  15. Hi Anna, I think we all hated raking leaves as kids. Roasting marshmellows would be fun!!

    Hi Megan, I got a lot more info on trees today, so I may be going back and adding more info to previous postings on the various trees.

    Hi Rose, I am trying to educate myself as well!! Making an ID of some trees is really really hard!!

    Hi Bangchik, While the leaves are small the canopy it pretty dense. It is a prefered shade tree in the south.

    Hi Gail, Sometimes the guys who come through to trim the trees end up making it look like they are just hacked beyond belief! Not acceptable to my pruning experience eyes!!!

  16. The willow oak is beautiful. I'm looking forward to the little leaf linden - Tilia americana? - I love the fragrance of its blooms.

  17. Hi VW, the Little Leaf Linden is Tilia cordata, not a native, but very similar to the Tilia americana-- I will be showing the comparison. Glad you like the Willow Oak

  18. We have willows and we have oaks, but I didn't even know this willow oak existed! Very cool!

    Janet, you should head over and read my blog post for today. :-)

  19. I'd never heard of this type of tree either. I always thought oaks all had the same type of leaves. We have no oaks in our yard but anytime we see one my daughters collect lots of the acorns to play with.

  20. Very interesting. I have one in my front yard and have always called it a Pin Oak. Looks just like your photos and I like "Willow Oak" much better.

  21. Hi Kylee, I didn't know before I lived here. It is a commonly used tree in our area.

    Hi Catherine, As kids we would play with the different acorns too.

    Hi David, Glad to help with an ID!


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