Where to find white oak acorns or sapling?

Asked January 9, 2020, 11:39 AM EST

The many benefits of white oaks in our environment have persuaded me to plant one. I’ve been looking for a sapling or acorns. All I can find are red oaks. Do you have sources you can recommend? I want a sapling grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, etc

Montgomery County Maryland

1 Response

It's uncommon for woody (tree, shrub) plants to be available from nurseries to grow from seed, but thankfully such a common local species may be able to provide you with seeds you can collect yourself. In addition, many nurseries will make use of pesticides and fertilizers as needed (organic or otherwise), since plants grown in containers are subjected to environmental stresses that in-ground plants are less prone to. (Including malnourishment - hence the need for eventual supplementation - and temperature and moisture swings that may cause the plants stress, which in turn can make them vulnerable to attack.

If on non-park, public land, you could gather your own acorns; on private property, simply ask the landowner for permission to collect. Locally-sourced genetics is often beneficial for the best adaptability to local environmental conditions.

White Oaks can be both a species (Quercus alba) and a group of oaks (such as "white oaks" vs. "red oaks" as subdivisions within the entire genus of oaks of species more closely related to each other). Identification of tree species in winter can be challenging if you don't otherwise know the location of specific White Oaks you wish to collect from. Leaf bud shape and bud arrangement on the branches, bud scar shape and characteristics, seed shapes (acorns in this case), and to a lesser extent bark and remaining leaves can help narrow-down ID. (Leaf shape and bark can be a bit unreliable due to environmental influences. Not helping matters is the fact that oaks within their subgroups are known to naturally hybridize as well.)

Maryland Biodiversity Project has multiple White Oak pictures on their page, though most are not winter bud/stem shots: https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/viewSpecies.php?species=1544
Pages 8 and 9 of this eastern oaks field guide discuss White Oak, though some of the points are a bit technical: https://www.fs.fed.us/foresthealth/technology/pdfs/fieldguide.pdf
The first page of this publication is handy for some explanation of terminology and a diagram of twig structures used in leafless ID: https://www.uwsp.edu/cnr-ap/leaf/Documents/LEAFWinterTreeIDKey.pdf On the right side of the third page is a White Oak twig diagram. The left side of the fourth page shows some comparisons with other common oak species' twigs. (While this is a Wisconsin publication, these are also local oak species here.)

If you decide to try purchasing acorns instead, you could inquire with any native plant growers; even if they don't offer White Oak specifically, they may know someone who does. Often, however, they will be already-started saplings and grown in (and maybe propagated from) another state.