Oak ID: Laurel, Willow, Swamp….. or something else….??

Forums discussing individual tree species, tree families across their range, and tree identification questions & guides.

Moderators: edfrank, dbhguru

#1)  Oak ID: Laurel, Willow, Swamp….. or something else….??

Postby AGJL1 » Thu Feb 06, 2014 1:45 pm

Hi folks,

Based on the topics on this forum, it appears that oak identification is a common problem.  I'm in the Wilmington, NC area and I have a big ole' oak in my back yard.  I've gotten conflicting information as to the species and finding the answer is not only important for my sanity, but possibly for my safety.  Living near the coast, an aging Laurel Oak can spell trouble during storms.  Mine is in fairly good shape, but there are many in this area that look fine, but tend to be rotten inside and go down in storms.  If, on the other hand, this is actually a Willow Oak or some type of hybrid, perhaps it isn't as big of an issue.  Again, the bottom line here is that I want to know what it is!

Evidence:  I'll attach some pictures and give you some information about the tree.  Almost none of the leaves have bristle tips (a typical attribute of Willows) and many are slightly lobed toward the tip.  This oak does drop most of its leaves, but it starts dropping in the fall and tends to finish in February (been cleaning up the mess every year for about 16 years now).  The leaves tend to just go from green to brown in the fall and the thing is constantly dropping twigs and branches.  Now, I've seen other trees that I'm fairly certain are Laurel Oaks in this area and they seem to retain more leaves than mine--- they seem to be more evergreen than mine.  I've always assumed I had a Laurel Oak, but with someone local questioning this and saying that it might be a Willow, I'm really not sure now.  This person mentioned the amount of leaf drop as evidence that it might be a Willow.  I've looked at thousands of pictures and descriptions, but I can't seem to find a definitive answer.  The shape of the leaf is not really in line with Willow (which are almost always uniform and end with bristle at the tip), and the shape of the tree and it's more deciduous nature are not really in line with Laurel.  I read some article published by the U of Florida that also mentioned the Swamp Laurel Oak as a possible choice.  

The diameter of the tree is roughly 40-45" at 4' of the ground.  I'll attach a variety of pictures of leaves, acorns and wide shots.  

So, what is it?  Laurel, Swamp Laurel, Willow, Hybrid, other??











Thanks very much for your help!

For this message the author AGJL1 has received Likes :
Will Blozan
User avatar
Posts: 5
Joined: Thu Feb 06, 2014 12:38 pm
Location: Wilmington, NC
Has Liked: 0 times
Has Been Liked: 1 times
Print view this post

#2)  Re: Oak ID: Laurel, Willow, Swamp….. or something else….??

Postby Jess Riddle » Sat Feb 08, 2014 12:46 pm


First, thanks for all the photos and detailed description.  We actually have a good bit to go off of to identify the tree.

Based on the leaves and tardily deciduous habit, the tree keys out in a fairly clearly as swamp laurel oak (Q. laurifolia).  Leaf shape of darlington oak (laurel oak, Q. hemisphaerica) is similar, but should be more pointed towards the tip and, as you mention, would be expected to hold more leaves.  Willow oak leaves should be narrower, and I've never seen a mature willow oak hold any green leaves through the winter.  Water oak has the same tardily deciduous habit, but the leaf shape is wrong.

The other consideration is habitat.  Darlington oak typically grows on deep sands, often in association with longleaf pine.  The background on your whole tree photo seems to show a forest of relatively tall hardwoods, which seems more consistent with swamp laurel oak.

I don't really see anything that conflicts with swamp laurel oak.

Hopefully one of the arborists on this board will chime in with how you can reduce the risk of major structural failure while keeping the tree healthy.


For this message the author Jess Riddle has received Likes :
Will Blozan
User avatar
Jess Riddle
Posts: 438
Joined: Sun Mar 14, 2010 11:59 am
Location: Monticello, AR
Has Liked: 740 times
Has Been Liked: 456 times
Print view this post

#3)  Re: Oak ID: Laurel, Willow, Swamp….. or something else….??

Postby AGJL1 » Sat Feb 08, 2014 2:36 pm

Jess, thanks for the reply and the great information.  I'll add a few more things here.  First, falling in line with your mention of habitat, there is a stream about 30 feet away.  Along that stream and on the opposite side of our yard, there are a variety of hardwoods, including a few hickories, gums and some massive poplars (which are even closer to the house).  Unfortunately, this tree has suffered a bit from some questionable  pruning and there are a number of wounds that haven't fully healed over.  It's placement near the house and limbs hanging over the driveway left us with little choice but to remove them.  When looking at the tree, there is a large branch on the right (it is the lowest right branch of the main trunk), which has a healed split and a hole that houses (or has housed) some squirrels.  Obviously, this branch is somewhat hollow and a bit of a risk going forward.  The only real risk is for the shed back there.  I'll attach a couple more pictures that show some of the pruning scars.  Photo 2823 shows the branch with the split and the hole (sorry about the lighting).

We do love this tree and I can't imagine the back yard without it, but given its age and the typical internal rotting, I'm somewhat concerned about it's proximity to the house.  The real question is when or if you have it removed and is there really a definitive way to know when that is.  The city (Wilmington) is on a mission to remove these trees (Laurels) in the downtown area, replacing them with live oaks.  Those trees are 50-75 years old and I think most of the ones being removed are showing signs of trouble.  An arborist said my tree was likely 75-100 years old.  Do you concur with that age estimate?

Thanks again.  Please let me know if more information is needed.  JL



User avatar
Posts: 5
Joined: Thu Feb 06, 2014 12:38 pm
Location: Wilmington, NC
Has Liked: 0 times
Has Been Liked: 1 times
Print view this post

#4)  Re: Oak ID: Laurel, Willow, Swamp….. or something else….??

Postby guymeilleur » Fri Feb 14, 2014 5:30 pm

Jon, it's unfortunate that the old laurel oaks downtown were removed instead of restored.  I doubt that Wilmington is looking to eradicate a species, based on observations made 3 states away.  If they overplant another species,live oaks, they're asking for an epidemic of live oak pests.  Yes, your tree has been malpruned--lower and interior branch removal has made it more top-heavy, and a higher risk to fail.  However, as you note, it appears to be in pretty good condition.  A light reduction will tend to correct the imbalance and mitigate the risk.  This can be done between winter and hurricane season.

See first link below re 'ticking time bomb', and other hyperbolic verbiage used by tree removal companies, and the underinformed.

http://www.historictreecare.com/wp-cont ... 131126.pdf

http://www.historictreecare.com/wp-cont ... mplete.pdf

http://www.historictreecare.com/wp-cont ... 010_06.pdf
Guy Meilleur, ISA Board-Certified Master Arborist, www.historictreecare.com

Managing trees for size, longevity, and benefits
User avatar
Posts: 17
Joined: Tue Feb 21, 2012 9:05 pm
Location: Apex NC
Has Liked: 0 times
Has Been Liked: 6 times
Print view this post

Return to Tree Species, Families and Identification

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests