Featured Tree: Beacon Oak (Quercus bicolor ‘Bonnie and Mike’)

December 3, 2015

by Andrea Fick

We are all familiar with the phrase “strong as an oak”.  It’s used when describing an object or person that is capable of withstanding tremendous physical stress.  The phrase is just one example of how the oak tree has influenced people throughout history.  People have used the tree as a religious and political symbol, as well as attaching historical importance to individual oak trees.  The oak species also produces high quality lumber that is desired for its beauty as well as durability.

This week’s tree of the week is the Quercus bicolor ‘Bonnie and Mike’.  The common name for the tree is the Beacon Swamp White Oak.  It was discovered in 2007 by Michael and Bonnie Dirr during one of their excursions to Virginia.  The thing that attracted them to this particular tree was its fastigiate growth pattern.  The upward branch growth set it aside from the other larger spreading oaks in the area.  By 2009, a California company was ready to cultivate the species in their fields.

oak leaves

Photo Courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt and Sons Co.

Beacon Oak

Photo Courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt and Sons Co.


This species has the same growth range as the common swamp white oak and grows from the Midwest to the East, but can spread as far South as Tennessee and Virginia.  It is classified as a hardiness zone 4 tree.  The tree grows best in full sun, but can tolerate shade.  The growth rate begins slow, but gradually increases to a moderate rate, averaging roughly 30’ in 30 years.  The overall height can range from 30’-35’ and its spread can range from 12’-16’.

With branches growing upright and tight to the trunk, the tree can be utilized in several locations including boulevards, residential lawns, parks and gardens.  They survive well in boulevards due to their history of growing in adverse conditions found in swamps and lowlands, where they are exposed to extreme flooding and droughts.  The species can handle exposure to salt commonly found along thoroughways, boulevards and sidewalks.  It doesn’t have many issues with insects or diseases, and it is more resilient to oak wilt because it is a white oak.

The characteristics of this species are similar to the common swamp white oak.  The leaves are alternate, simple, and obovate and range from 3”-7” long.  The teeth around the margin are irregular and add a nice aesthetic appeal to the leaf.  The leaves are a shiny, dark green in the spring and summer and change into a nice golden yellow in the fall.  This fall color can really accentuate the tree in the landscape.  It is a monoecious plant and contains both male and female flowers.  The yellow-green male catkins are more noticeable than the smaller red female flowers found in the leaf axils and can add to the aesthetics of the tree.   Acorns produced by the tree are roughly 1” long and are a nice tan color.  Acorns can attract wildlife which contributes to the biological diversity of the landscape.  The bark of the young twigs is smooth and light-brown in color, while the older, mature bark is a light gray and is furrowed with irregular fissures.


  1. JFS Introductions, Quercus bicolor ‘Bonnie and Mike’ Beacon Oak [Online Image]. (2015). Boring, OR.  J. Frank Schmidt and Sons Co. Retrieved from http://www.jfschmidt.com/introductions/beacon/
  2. Blooming & Beautiful. Beacon Swamp White Oak. (2011). Retrieved From. http://www.bloomingandbeautiful.com/%2FBeacon-Swamp-White-Oak-P12380.aspx
  3. Virginia Tech University. swamp white oak, Fagacea Quercus bicolor, Willd. (2015). Retrieved From. http://dendro.cnre.vt.edu/dendrology/syllabus/factsheet.cfm?ID=313
  4. Penn State Extension. Home Lawn and Garden, an Interview with Michael Dirr. (2015). Retrieved From. http://extension.psu.edu/plants/gardening/news/2014/an-interview-with-michael-dirr
  5. Gibney, Richard W. Cultivars of Three North American Trees. gibneyCE.com. web. 02 December 2015.