Stumbling Upon Swamp White Oak

Last month, I spent some time wandering town conservation land. One spot I visited is a vernal pool, which is dry this time of year but is an important wet spot for many creatures in spring. This is one of the places where early in the year wood frogs can be heard announcing spring's arrival. Years ago, I recall being dumbfounded by their calls and thinking I'd stumbled upon some odd, woodland ducks. But, it turned out they were small, loud frogs.

While I didn't notice any frogs this time, my attention was drawn to the trees growing within the seasonally wet area. They were oaks for sure, and I couldn't help but notice the acorn caps scattered on the ground. The mostly paired caps were on long stalks -- the nuts apparently already gathered up by birds or resident mammals.

Acorn caps with long stalks and fuzzy, white leaf undersides.

Unlike nearby oaks that were still covered with variably colored leaves, these trees had dropped most of their leaves, which were brown on top and white and fuzzy on the underside.

Do these lobed leaves look familiar?

My mind raced through its archive of search images and settled on a likely candidate: Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor). The habitat, long acorn stalks, and lobed leaves lacking bristle tips all seemed to fit. Later, I confidently confirmed my hunch by consulting several field guides.

I'd read about Swamp White Oak many times over the years, but this was the first time I'd noticed the tree in the field (okay, actually in a wooded vernal pool). Perhaps, this story will help this tree stand out for you, too.

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