Water oak is a rapid growing tree. Leaves of a mature water oak are usually spatula-shaped while leaves of immature saplings can be long and narrow (see examples on plate below). Many describe the leaf as looking like a duck's foot. Q. nigra can be described as "nearly evergreen" as some green leaves will cling to the tree through the winter. Water oak has strikingly smooth bark.
Water oak is particularly suited for timber, fuel, wildlife habitat, and environmental forestry. It has been widely planted in southern communities as a shade tree. Its veneer has been successfully used as plywood for fruit and vegetable containers.
Forestryimages.org provides several images of parts of water oak. The tree is a hardwood and the lineal taxonomy is Magnoliopsida > Fagales > Fagaceae > Quercus nigra. Water oak is also commonly called possum oak or spotted oak.
3. The Range of Water Oak
Water oak is found along the Coastal Plain from southern New Jersey and Delaware south to southern Florida; west to eastern Texas; and north in the Mississippi Valley to southeastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, and southwestern Tennessee.
Leaf: Alternate, simple, 2 to 4 inches long and extremely variable in shape (from spatulate to lanceolate), may be 0 to 5 lobed, margins may be entire or bristle-tipped, both surfaces are glabrous, but axillary tufts may be present below.
Twig: Slender, red-brown; buds short, sharp-pointed, angular, red-brown, multiple at the tip.
Water oak is easily damaged by fire. Low-severity surface fires top-kill water oak less than 3 to 4 inches in d.b.h. The bark of larger trees is thick enough to protect the cambium from low-severity fires and the buds are above the heat of the fire. in a Santee Experimental Forest study in South Carolina, periodic winter and summer low-severity fires and annual winter low-severity fires were effective at reducing the number of hardwood stems (including water oak) between 1 and 5 inches in d.b.h. Annual summer fires also reduced the number of stems in that size class, as well as nearly eliminating all stems less than 1 inch in d.b.h. Root systems were weakened and eventually killed by burning during the growing season .