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Willow Oak

November 2, 2020

Tree of the Month

Quercus phellos

The Willow oak is a tough native tree found in low bottomlands and along stream and riverbanks from New York to Florida and west to Missouri and Texas.  Known to absorb large quantities of water, it is tolerant of flooding and consistently wet soils, it is also surprisingly drought tolerant once established.  Willow oak has a shallow root system that transplants well and is quick growing once established.

The leaves are 2-8” long and ½” wide, simple, and entire, resembling those of the willow (Salix) family.  The leaves lack the telltale deeply cut lobes of other oak species but are actually in the Red oak family with a small-bristled tip at the end of the leaf.  Medium green and sometimes glossy on top with a yellowish underside in summer and turning a nice yellow in fall.  The small leaves can be a nuisance in gutters but disappear into the lawn and make fall cleanup a little easier.

Like all oaks, the fruit or seed is an acorn, and Willow oaks have one of the smallest acorns around.  The bark is a shiny gray brown becoming platy with age.  Pyramidal in shape when young and becoming rounded at maturity, Willow oak is a fast grower attaining heights of 70-120’ and a spread of 40-80’.  Its’ size can make for a great park or landscape tree, but it can also very easily outgrow its space in small yards and as street trees with narrow planting strips or overhead wires.

Willow oaks prefer full sun to develop a thick full crown and sturdy branch structure, but they will tolerate partial shade.  Like most oaks, they have many nuisance insect and disease pests, but none are serious problems for this long-lived species.  Willow oak is a great tree for year-round enjoyment if you can provide a little care during establishment and ample growing space as it matures.

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