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Water OakQuercus nigra

  • Northern Red Oak - Quercus rubra
  • Water Oak
  • Water Oak

A native of North America, the water oak shows tremendous potential in its adaptability. It can thrive in a variety of soil types, including heavy, compacted soil and wet, swampy areas. This tree can be used effectively as a shade or street tree due to its versatility, but it is most frequently used to restore bottomland hardwood forests in the Southeast on land that was previously cleared for agriculture or pine plantations.

The biggest fans of the water oak, however, are the wide range of wildlife who enjoy the abundant fall crops of acorns.

Hardiness Zones

The water oak can be expected to grow in Hardiness Zones 6–9. View Map

Tree Type

This tree is considered both a shade tree and an ornamental tree. It features a spreading canopy capable of blocking sunlight and adds visual interest and beauty to landscaping.

Mature Size

The water oak grows to a height of 50–80' and a spread of 50–80' at maturity.

Growth Speed Fast Growth Rate

This tree grows at a fast rate, with height increases of more than 24" per year.

Sun Preference

Full sun and partial shade are best for this tree, meaning it prefers a minimum of 4 hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day.

Soil Preference

The water oak grows in acidic, loamy, sandy, well-drained, wet and clay soils. It tolerates wet sites but does best in well-drained areas that do not experience severe drought.


This tree:
  • Features alternate, simple leaves that are exceedingly variable in size and shape. They are a dull bluish-green to lustrous dark green color in the summer and a showy shade of yellow in the fall.
  • Transplants readily.
  • Yields an abundance acorns that are approximately ½" in length with alternating striated bands of brown and black. Each nut is enclosed at the base in a broad, shallow, short-stalked cap with appressed scales.
  • Can tolerate heavy, compacted soil.
  • Grows in a rounded, spreading or horizontal shape.
  • Has weaker wood than most oaks.

Wildlife Value

Water oak acorns are at the top of the food preference list for white-tailed deer, squirrels, raccoons, pigs, wild turkeys, mallards, wood ducks and quail. In wintertime, deer will browse the buds and young twigs.


The water oak has been used as a source of timber and fuel by people in the southern states since the 1600s. Many homes were built with and heated by giant water oaks that sprouted hundreds of years before Columbus.