By Gary Wade
University of Georgia
Despite its tolerance of wet sites, you don't have to live in a swamp to enjoy overcup oak. It's this year's Georgia Gold Medal winner partly because it does equally well on dry, upland sites and adapts to a variety of soils and growing environments. It thrives in full sun in hardiness zones 5 to 9.
But there's more. Overcup oak is a tough shade tree for large landscapes, public parks, golf courses and office parks. While most oaks have a reputation for being slow growers, this tree grows fast, particularly when it's young.
Its initial growth is somewhat pyramidal. Then, with age, it gradually becomes more rounded. It typically grows 50 feet high and 50 feet wide under cultivation. But it's been known to reach 125 feet in the wild.
Named for acornThe unique shape of the acorns gives the tree its name and helps distinguish it from other oaks. A warty cap almost completely covers the nut. The acorns drop to the ground in the fall. They're a good food source for wildlife, including squirrels, deer and turkeys.
At first glance, overcup oak looks a lot like its white oak cousin. Like the white oak, it has rough-textured, gray-brown bark, deeply lobed leaves and yellow fall color.
Nursery experts call overcup oak a tough, tolerant tree that's perfect for less-than-perfect sites. It thrives in heavy, compacted clay soils. And it loves the heat and humidity of the Deep South.
With a life span as long as 400 years, overcup oak provides a living legacy for many future generations to enjoy. It's easy to see why it has emerged as the top tree out there for 2006, earning the 2006 Georgia Gold Medal for trees.
(Gary Wade is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)