Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Laurel Oak - Quercus laurifolia   Michaux
Members of Fagaceae:
Members of Quercus with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Fagales » Family Fagaceae
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DistributionPresent over most of the Coastal Plain, though not recorded from scattered counties. May well occur in all counties in the province. Barely ranges into the extreme southeastern Piedmont (in Anson and Granville counties). Occurs very locally on the Dare County barrier island at Nags Head Woods and Kitty Hawk Woods.

This is a Southern species ranging from eastern VA south throughout FL, and west to eastern TX. It does range out of the Coastal Plain mainly from AL to AR.
AbundanceFrequent to common in much of the Coastal Plain, but mainly where there are moderate to large blackwater creeks and rivers. Least numerous in areas of brownwater river floodplains or areas lacking flowing blackwater streams. Casual in the Piedmont.
HabitatThis is a species of swamps and bottomlands, primarily in blackwater situations, which are much more widespread in the Coastal Plain than are brownwater floodplains (mainly Roanoke, Tar, Neuse, and Cape Fear). It can grow on slight forested levees in floodplains, as well as at times in non-flowing floodplain pools. Only occasionally does it occur in maritime forests, and then only in the swampy interdunes. The very similar Darlington Oak (Q. hemisphaerica), which has often been included within Laurel Oak, grows essentially on upland soils of maritime forests and sandy flats.
PhenologyFlowers in March and April (about two weeks earlier than does Darlington Oak), and fruits from September to November of the second year.
IdentificationThis is a familiar species along many of our blackwater rivers, where easily seen from canoes, for example. It is a medium to large semi-evergreen tree, often growing to 80-90 feet tall, at times taller. It has entire leaves that are wider and more diamond-shaped (rhombic) than other oaks with entire leaves, in general being wider above the middle (oblanceolate or obovate) and with a rounded tip (though with a small bristle tip). The dark green leaves remain on the trees well into winter, but usually drop before new leaves emerge. The very similar Darlington Oak has narrower leaves, often narrowly elliptic, usually well under 1-inch wide, has an acute leaf apex, and has entirely glabrous leaves below; whereas Laurel Oak leaves average over 1-inch wide, has a rounded leaf apex, and has small tufts of hairs in some vein axils below. Darlington Oak leaves may frequently have a few shallow lobes near the tip, whereas Laurel Oak shows less such lobing. They usually also separate by habitat, as mentioned above. Willow Oak (Q. phellos) has entirely deciduous leaves, turning brown in fall and soon dropping; its leaves are always quite narrowly elliptic to lanceolate, well under 1-inch wide, have distinctly acute leaf tips, and never show any lobing on the leaves. Both occur in wetlands, with Willow Oak favoring brownwater floodplains and rich soil, but they can grow in similar sites.
Taxonomic CommentsFor most of the last century, this species included the taxon known as Q. hemisphaerica, either as a variety or simply subsumed within Q. laurifolia. Most recent references are in agreement that the former is a good species.

Other Common Name(s)Swamp Laurel Oak, Diamond-leaf Oak
State RankS4? [S4S5]
Global RankG5
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B.A. SorrieDrowning Creek W of Hoffman-West End Road, Apr 2014. MoorePhoto_natural
B.A. SorrieRoanoke River floodplain, Nov 2017.
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