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Using swamp white oak in urban areas

The swamp white oak is a large, narrow-crowned tree found throughout the northeastern United States as far west as Iowa and eastern Missouri. In the Cincinnati area it is found predominately along the Ohio River, occurring on deep, rich, moist bottomlands along streams, and on low areas.

Being a bottomland species, swamp white oak is highly adaptable to tough urban conditions where soil compaction reduces oxygen content in the soil. Unfortunately, this species has been underutilized in many urban areas, but has recently come into favor as interest in native plants increase. Several nurseries in the local area are also now offering the plant, allowing for more widespread application of its use in street plantings, and for home landscapes.

As member of the white oak group, this tree avoids some of the more common problems that can be found with members of the red oak group. While some members of the group can be slow growing, swamp white oak is certainly not in that category. Under reasonably good growing conditions this tree can grow moderately fast in comparison to most other oaks, and is easily the most rapid growing white oak.

In addition to its good growth rates, the tree is also highly ornamental. Leaves are dark, shiny green above gray to shiny white and downy below. This creates excellent visual interest on windy days. In fall, the glossy green foliage slowly gives way to light yellow hues, and can be fairly long lasting. During winter, the light gray bark stands out in the landscape, with the heavily exfoliating bark on smaller branches adding even more winter interest to the plant.

With such good seasonal appeal, and adaptability of this species, swamp white oak certainly deserves more widespread use and acceptance in our urban landscapes.


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