Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Quercus nigra
SPECIES: Quercus nigra
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Carey, Jennifer H. 1992. Quercus nigra. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
Quercus aquatica Walt.
Quercus microcarpa Small
Quercus nigra var. heterophylla (Ait.) Ashe
SCS PLANT CODE :
COMMON NAMES :
The currently accepted scientific name of water oak is Quercus nigra L.
[25,50]. It has been placed within the subgenus Erythrobalanus or black
oak group. There are no recognized varieties, subspecies, or forms.
Water oak hybridizes with the following species [25,50]:
x Q. falcata (southern red oak) = Q. X garlandensis Palmer
x Q. incana (bluejack oak) = Q. X caduca Trel.
x Q. laevis (turkey oak) = Q. X walteriana Ashe
x Q. marilandica (blackjack oak) = Q. X sterilis Trel.
x Q. phellos (willow oak) = Q. X capesii W. Wolf
x Q. shumardii (Shumard oak) = Q. X neopalmeri Sudw.
x Q. velutina (black oak) = Q. X demarei Ashe
LIFE FORM :
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Quercus nigra
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
Water oak occurs on the Southeastern Coastal Plain from southern New
Jersey and Delaware to southern Florida and west to eastern Texas. It
occurs north along the Mississippi Valley to southeastern Oklahoma,
Arkansas, Missouri, and southwestern Tennessee .
FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress
FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood
AL AR FL GA LA MD MS MO NJ NC
OK SC TN TX VA
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
K098 Northern floodplain forest
K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest
K112 Southern mixed forest
K113 Southern floodplain forest
SAF COVER TYPES :
70 Longleaf pine
74 Cabbage palmetto
80 Loblolly pine - shortleaf pine
81 Loblolly pine
82 Loblolly pine - hardwood
83 Longleaf pine - slash pine
84 Slash pine
85 Slash pine - hardwood
88 Willow oak - water oak - diamondleaf oak
89 Live oak
91 Swamp chestnut oak - cherrybark oak
92 Sweetgum - willow oak
93 Sugarberry - American elm - green ash
94 Sycamore - sweetgum - American elm
104 Sweetbay - swamp tupelo - redbay
111 South Florida slash pine
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES :
Water oak occurs primarily in bottomland forests. The following
published classifications list water oak as a dominant species:
The natural communities of South Carolina 
Forest vegetation of the lower Alabama Piedmont 
Eastern deciduous forest 
Forest associations in the uplands of the lower Gulf Coastal Plain 
SPECIES: Quercus nigra
WOOD PRODUCTS VALUE :
On good sites water oak produces moderate quality factory lumber ,
but on poor sites the wood is knotty, mineral stained, and often insect
damaged . Water oak veneer is used as plywood for fruit and
vegetable containers .
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE :
Water oak provides cover, food, and habitat for wildlife. Cavity
nesters such as the red-bellied woodpecker, great crested flycatcher,
and hairy woodpecker nest in water oak snags . A tall midstory of
water oak within a pine forest provides habitat for the southern flying
Water oak acorns are eaten by many animals including squirrels,
chipmunks, waterfowl, blue jay, wild turkey, and northern bobwhite
[8,48]. Blue jays and squirrels cache acorns in the fall and return to
eat them in the winter [8,21,44]. Acorns of the black oak group are an
especially important food source in the winter because those of the
white oak group germinate soon after falling and, therefore, are
unavailable [41,44]. Deer browse water oak .
Water oak acorns have a fairly high tannin content of 8.8 percent, which
limits palatability . In feeding trials to test acorn preference of
fox squirrels, water oak ranked sixth in preference among the 12
southeastern acorn species tested .
NUTRITIONAL VALUE :
Water oak acorns have 4.9 percent crude protein, 17.6 percent crude
fiber, and 21.1 percent crude fat which makes them high in energy. They
are low in nitrogen and phosphorus .
COVER VALUE :
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES :
Water oak is frequently used to restore bottomland hardwood forests in
the Southeast on land that was previously cleared for agriculture or
pine plantations. Both direct seeding and planting methods work well
Water oak performed well when planted on fill slopes in Decatur County,
Tennessee. After 45 years, water oak averaged 96 feet (29.3 m) in
height, 15 inches (38 cm) in d.b.h., and had an average stocking of 96
trees per acre (237 trees/ha) . Water oak planted on
canal-excavated material along the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway had
intermediate survival (greater than 40 percent) and a mean growth of
44.7 inches (113.60 cm) in 5 years .
OTHER USES AND VALUES :
Water oak is used as a shade tree .
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Water oak is very susceptible to disease and insect attack when growing
on impervious or dry terrace soils . Trunk borers (Enaphalodes spp.
and Prionoxystus spp.) and leaf hoppers (Erythroneura spp.) attack water
oak along with root rot (Ganoderma curtisiicone) and cone rusts
(Cronartium spp.). Although not seriously harmed itself, water oak is
an extremely susceptible host to the alternate stage of fusiform rust
(Cronartium quercuum f. sp. fusiforme), a serious disease of southern
pines . Trunk canker and heart rot are caused by a variety of
organisms. Water oak is also parasitized by mistletoe (Phoradendron
Water oak is highly susceptible to air pollution, especially sulfur
dioxide. Flowers are easily killed by late frosts .
Water oak has great potential for fiber production on sites to which it
is specifically adapted. Pine does poorly on many of these sites and
could be replaced with water oak . Clearcutting followed by
planting or direct seeding is the best method to establish hardwood
forests . Competing vegetation and destruction of acorns by
squirrels and chipmunks are the biggest problems associated with direct
seeding. Moisture is a major limiting factor for water oak regeneration
. Collection, storage, stratification, and viability testing of
water oak acorns are detailed .
Nutria uproot and eat seedlings. Translucent plastic tubes placed
around newly planted seedlings were effective in protecting seedlings
from nutria in Louisiana .
Herbicides such as 2,4,5-T, picloram, and glyphosate can be used to
control water oak in pine plantations [31,50].
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Quercus nigra
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS :
Water oak is a medium-sized tree with glabrous twigs, membranous leaves,
and a straight, slender trunk. On a good site, water oak can reach 105
feet (32 m) in height and attain 6.5 feet (2 m) in d.b.h. It is
semievergreen in warmer parts of its range but completely deciduous in
other areas [10,43]. Water oak has a shallow, spreading rooting habit
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :
REGENERATION PROCESSES :
Seed production and dissemination: Water oak is monoecious. It bears
seed by age 20, and production is good on alternate years. The heavy
acorns are disseminated by gravity, water, and animals  such as blue
jays and ground squirrels, which cache acorns in the soil [8,21,44].
Germination and seedling development: Seed viability is high.
Germination is hypogeal and occurs in the spring following maturation.
Because of a generally late spring emergence, seedling mortality from
flooding is low. The seedlings do not tolerate prolonged submergence.
Because of the large seed, young seedlings have high initial
survivorship regardless of available light, drought stress, or
herbivory. Seedlings require abundant moisture for the entire growing
Under favorable conditions, water oak may grow 24 inches (60 cm) a
year . Water oak seedlings suppressed by shade, however, grew only
1.9 inches (4.7 cm) per year in a study along the Neches River in east
Texas . A suppressed individual will grow epicormic branches 
Vegetative reproduction: If top-killed, water oak of all ages will
sprout fairly efficiently from the root crown [38,45,50].
SITE CHARACTERISTICS :
Water oak grows on levees, high ridges, and elevated margins of swamps,
rivers, and hydric hammocks which flood deeply and frequently but drain
rapidly because of relief [6,12,20,37,49]. Water oak will also grow on
uplands to about 1,000 feet (300 m) in elevation where soils remain
moist . Water oak grows well on better drained silty clay or loamy
soils and poorly on poorly drained clay soils. It grows primarily on
Water oak is weakly to moderately tolerant of seasonal flooding. It can
survive up to several months of flooded soil, but mortality is high if
this is a yearly occurrence. Generally, water oak is tolerant of
several weeks of flooding each growing season [3,7].
In addition to overstory associates mentioned in SAF cover types, common
associates of water oak include Nuttall oak (Quercus nuttallii), white
oak (Q. alba), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), pecan (Carya
illinoensis), winged elm (Ulmus alata), blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica),
white ash (Fraxinus americana), yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera),
southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), flowering dogwood (Cornus
florida), rough-leaf dogwood (C. drummondii), honeylocust (Gleditsia
triacanthos), Carolina laurelcherry (Prunus caroliniana), hawthorn
(Crataegus spp.), American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), swamp privet
(Forestiera acuminata), spruce pine (Pinus glabra) .
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS :
Facultative Seral Species
Water oak is intolerant to semi-intolerant of shade [19,34,50]. It
germinates in shade but requires moderate light for development.
Because of slow early growth, water oak does not compete well .
Water oak is a frequent early hardwood invader . In the absence of
fire, it invades and eventually succeeds pine forests . On
fine-textured loess soils that retain moisture, water oak will colonize
old abandoned fields if a seed source is nearby . As a hardwood
forest matures, water oak will stabilize or decline in abundance .
Water oak is generally considered a subclimax or transitional species
[19,32,50]. Because of its weak to moderate tolerance of seasonal
flooding, however, water oak may form a topographic climax on ridges
elevated less than 5 feet (1.5 m) above floodplains [13,32,34].
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT :
Water oak staminate and pistillate flowers develop shortly before or at
the same time as new leaves. Acorns mature in September of the second
year and are dispersed from September through November [3,50].
SPECIES: Quercus nigra
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS :
Water oak has relatively thin bark compared to other oaks  and is
easily top-killed by even light fire. It survives fire by sprouting
from the root crown . Water oak's moist habitat and proximity to
water discourages fire entry. Water oak leaves and other fuel along
waterways are often moist and difficult to burn . Water oak is
excluded from upslope forests by periodic summer burning .
Based on flame applied directly to living bark, water oak is less
resistant to fire than pine, southern magnolia, and sweet bay; of
more-or-less equal resistance as red maple (Acer rubrum), flowering
dogwood, water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica), and river birch (Betula nigra);
and more resistant than sweetgum, American holly (Ilex opaca), and black
cherry (Prunus serotina) .
FIRE REGIMES :
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :
Tree with adventitious-bud root crown/root sucker
SPECIES: Quercus nigra
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT :
Water oak is easily damaged by fire . Low-severity surface fires
top-kill water oak less than 3 to 4 inches (7.6-10.2 cm) 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
study on the Santee Experimental Forest 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 (2.6-12.5 cm) 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 (2.5 cm) in d.b.h. Root
systems were weakened and eventually killed by burning during the
growing season .
The mean time in seconds for water oak cambium to reach the lethal
temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 deg C) when a standardized
flame was applied to living bark was 30.2 seconds for 0.2 inch-thick
(0.5 cm) bark, 61 seconds for 0.3 inch-thick (0.8 cm) bark, and 136
seconds for 0.4 inch-thick (1 cm) bark .
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT :
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE :
Water oak, including seedlings, sprout from the root collar if
top-killed by fire. Larger water oaks that survive fire but have fire
scars are extremely susceptible to butt and heart rot . After being
fire scarred, the average rate of spread of rot in water oak is 1.25
feet (0.4 m) per decade .
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE :
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Hardwoods growing within a pine forest are often controlled with
prescribed fire. Water oaks up to 3 inches (7.6 cm) in d.b.h. are
top-killed and sprouts kept small and controllable with prescribed
winter fires. Summer fires are also effective but are more detrimental
to the wildlife food supply . Herbicides combined with fire can be
used to eradicate larger water oaks .
Because water oak leaves and habitat are often moist, fuels should be
allowed to dry at least 3 weeks following a rain of 0.5 inch (1.3 cm) or
more. Some fires will not carry even under ideal conditions of less
than 4 percent fuel moisture, 20 to 30 percent relative humidity, and 2
miles (3.2 km) per hour winds within the stand .
Burning has only a slight effect on the quality of water oak browse. In
one study, protein was slightly higher and phosphoric acid slightly
lower on burned plots than on unburned plots .
SPECIES: Quercus nigra
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