Though these long-lived hardwoods once dominated the forests of their native range across eastern and central North America, colonial deforestation for logging significantly reduced their population. Yet, they remain a prevalent deciduous species and, along with other oaks, serve as a keystone species within Cape Cod ecosystems. This means that their ecological importance is much larger relative to their biomass, as they support more wildlife than any other plant species. White oaks sustain the caterpillars of more than 535 different species of butterflies and moths and their leaves, twigs, and acorns are an essential part of the diets of hundreds of species of birds and mammals.
Despite the name, the bark of white oaks is typically light gray with leaves that bud red, mature into a yellowish-green, and turn deep red to purple before dropping in autumn. Though slow-growing, typical mature heights may range from 80 to 100 feet with extensive canopies. This rot-resistant oak is tolerant of various habitats with ranging levels of moisture, pH, and altitudes. However, it is not tolerant of anthropogenic pollution common to urban areas, making it rare within cities and along roadsides.