A tall and stately tree, silver oaks can grow over 100 feet tall with a 30-foot spread of nice cool shade. They thrive in moderately dry, tropical climates such as Florida and California. But silver oak trees have more uses than just a pretty shade tree.
Silver oak trees, also called silk, silky, and southern silky oak, have many uses. Along with providing shade, silver oak trees can be used as windbreaks, fuelwood, veneer, to make musical instruments, cabinets, and for reforestation. They also provide nectar to pollinating birds and insects.
This multi-use tree is more than just something pretty to look at in your backyard. Silver oaks have some amazing uses you can take advantage of!
What Are Silver Oak Trees?
Despite their name, silver oak trees are not part of the oak tree family. They belong to a family of trees known as Proteaceae. Don’t ask us how to pronounce that! Macadamia nut trees belong to the same family.
There are thousands of species under this large family umbrella, ranging from herbs and shrubs to large trees.
Silver oak trees are the largest tree in their genus, Grevillea. You may know this genus by another name: spider flowers. Species in this genus commonly produce nectar for bees, ants, and birds. However, you will not see any animals eating the flowers or fruits as they contain cyanide.
Where Do Silver Oak Trees Live?
The silver oak goes by many names: southern silky oak, Australian silver oak, silk oak, and silky oak.
These trees are picky about where they live. In the United States, their range is the southern tips of Florida and Texas, Southern Arizona, and Southern California. They’re also present in Hawaii.
Silver oaks are native to Australia according to the US Forest Service. Specifically, they are from the east coast of Queensland, down to New South Wales. In New South Wales, they consider these pesky trees weeds because they pop up so quickly.
What Climates Do Silver Oak Trees Grow In?
Judging by where these trees grow, you can tell they like warm climates. If they have to, silver oaks can survive down to 18℉ and up to 95℉. However, they prefer temperatures between 50℉ and 80℉. Who wouldn’t?
Speaking of picky climates, silver oaks are also fastidious about moisture. They cannot grow in wet, soggy, swampy soils. Instead, they need well-drained soils and prefer slightly acidic conditions.
Talk about a picky tree!
The pH of your soil can affect the growth of any plant. For more information on what certain trees prefer and how to amend your soil to their liking, What pH Level Do Trees Actually Like For Best Growth? is a great place to start!
Most folks living in the U.S. will never see a silver oak tree because they prefer tropical, warm climates. Even those living in southern New Mexico do not see silver oak trees. However, for those living in Hawaii, you will see silver oaks on most of the islands.
Under ideal conditions, silver oak trees will reach an average height of 75-100 feet with a single, straight trunk at full maturity. They are fast growers, growing at a minimum of 3 feet per year, sometimes 10 feet!
Now that we know where silver oaks live and what their favorite growing conditions are, let’s check out all the uses for your silver oak tree and what you can do with yours.
10 Silver Oak Tree Uses (And What To Do With Yours)
If you have a silver oak tree in your yard or are thinking about planting one, you may wonder what it’s good for. What can you do with a silver oak tree?
The number one use for residential silver oak trees is for shade and ornamentation, but don’t worry, we’ll also talk about some other uses such as the timber industry and even the rock n’ roll industry!
Let’s get to it!
Silver Oak Trees Are Used As Ornamental Trees
Their massive size puts silver oak trees in the ‘skyline’ tree category. They dominate the landscapes they are growing in and like to be the center of attention.
Now, if you have a small yard in the city, silver oak trees are not recommended. According to the University of Florida, you should not plant them near a house because of their size and spread.
The large spread of silver oak trees is not the only problem with planting them near a house. Silver oaks are brittle and shed their leaves, despite being evergreens. In high winds, the tops of the trees can even snap off!
So, why in the world would you want to plant a silver oak in your yard?
Well, if you have the land, they are an excellent choice for a centerpiece or statement tree in your landscape. When the flowers bloom in the spring, they are a brilliant yellow-orange. Coupled with long, fern-like leaves, the silver oak is a beautiful tree to see.
It is also an evergreen tree, so you do not have to worry about it losing its leaves and growing bare in the winter months. Although, the silver oak loses a lot of its leaves throughout the year due to wind and inclement weather.
Silver oak trees have been used industrially as ornamental street trees. When planted along roads and trimmed properly, these trees can be pleasant to look at and their roots have minimal impact on sidewalks and streets.
Silver Oak Trees Are Used For Shade
With a mature height sometimes reaching over 100 feet, silver oak trees are the perfect choice for shade. It has a large spread, providing up to 30 feet of shade in all directions.
These are magnificent trees to plant in large fields for farm animals to rest under on hot summer days. They are also nice in large yards, providing shade for family picnics and outings as long as the wind isn’t too high!
It’s not recommended to hang a tire swing from these trees because of brittle branches.
Silver oaks provide shade for agricultural plants too. Tea bushes and coffee plants need protection from extreme sun, rain, wind, and cold. Silver oaks make for a great umbrella over these economically important crops.
Using silver oaks in this manner is popular in India and Sri Lanka, according to the US Forest Service. Protecting coffee with silver oaks is a common practice in Hawaii, India, and Brazil.
Silver Oak Trees Are Used As Windbreaks
Another great use for silver oak trees is to use them as windbreaks. After all, they’re massive, right? Might as well!
So, what exactly is a windbreak? Windbreaks are used to, well, break the wind and slow it down. Slowing the wind means less erosion, less damage, and better conditions for crops.
You can buy artificial windbreakers like the Royal Shade Windscreen. This is a good option if you need protection against the wind right now, instead of 10 years later when a silver oak may grow tall enough to provide wind protection.
Windbreaks create a better environment for soil, livestock, and wildlife. Silver oaks are not a great windbreaker. They may be super tall, but as the tree ages their branches grow brittle and easily break off.
In Florida, silver oak trees serve an important role in preventing Citrus canker according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Citrus cankers result from a bacterium that infects citrus trees, causing brown spots and lesions on the fruit.
Silver oak trees are not very cold tolerant, so they are mainly used in the southern coastal areas. The bacteria responsible for citrus cankers travels in windy rain, where it gets deposited into the stomates of vulnerable citrus trees.
When using silver oaks, the number of lesions observed on vulnerable trees was lower and the spread of the disease was reduced to only a few plants instead of an entire nursery.
Silver Oaks Provide Nectar For Wildlife
Trees not only provide us with oxygen and shade, but they also provide food and homes to a lot of wildlife. Squirrels, birds, beetles, deer, raccoons, and tons of other wildlife benefit from trees and their fallen fruits and nuts.
The silver oak provides a special sort of reward for visiting wildlife: nectar! According to a study published in Austrul Ecology, honeybees and ants take advantage of this trait the most, but birds also get in on the action.
During the study, they observed birds were better pollinators for silver oaks than bees or ants, but that bees and ants often hogged the nectar so that cross-pollination happened far less often than it should have.
If you want to give the birds a better chance at the nectar, consider hanging a bee habitat like SunVara Wild Pollinator Mason Bee Habitat from a nearby tree. Bees will cruise on over to this setup, giving the birds some breathing room.
Silver oak trees are important honey trees in India, where the nectar is converted and sold as honey.
Silver Oaks Are Used For Fuelwood
There’s nothing better than sitting around a fire on a warm summer night, watching the flames rise and disappear into the night.
Ready to have a bonfire yet? Silver oak wood makes fantastic firewood!
Silver oak trees are easy to grow in warm climates, and they do not compete too much with their neighboring plants and trees. For this reason, silver oaks are often planted in plantations where they are harvested for specific purposes. Like fuelwood, for example.
Another commodity silver oaks are used for is timber. These trees grow fast and straight, so they are perfect for the timber industry.
You can read more about using oak trees for firewood here!
Silver Oak Trees Are Used As Veneer
For those of us out there unfamiliar with woodworking, you are not alone! The word ‘veneer’ is probably known but not well defined in the average person’s mind.
The veneer is the ‘face’ of a wood product. It can make a TV stand appear like solid oak or a chest look like dark cherry. Underneath most wood products is simple particleboard.
Since people often dislike having particle board as a style in their home, a veneer is an important commodity in the wood industry. Silver oaks have a unique appearance referred to as ‘lacewood.’ It ranges from a silvery gray to brown with vertical striations.
In recent years, silver oak veneer has caused allergic reactions in some folks who are sensitive to the wood.
Silver Oaks Are Used To Make Doors, Windows, and Cabinets
Not only are silver oak trees used for the face of wood products, but they’re also used to build stuff! The wood of silver oaks resembles that of an actual oak tree according to California Polytechnic State University, making it an attractive wood in the industry.
Remember how we said silver oak trees grow pretty fast? This quality makes the silver oak one of the better trees to use for wood products because they are more sustainable.
In just two years, silver oaks can reach a height of 10 feet!
Silver oak trees are used to make cabinets, doors, windows, and furniture. The reason they used the wood for these purposes is silver oak tree wood is resistant to rot.
This makes it an excellent candidate for wood products exposed to the elements, like doors and windows.
Silver Oak Trees Are Used To Make Musical Instruments
Because silver oak trees resemble the wood of an oak tree, it’s commonly used to make beautiful musical instruments.
Silver oaks are considered ‘soft’ hardwoods. The wood is easily worked without splintering or breaking, making it an ideal choice for instruments. Normally, softwood trees are chosen for musical instruments, but hardwoods are used occasionally.
The popular belief about hardwoods and softwoods is that hardwood is hard, and softwood is soft, right? While this is true for a lot of hardwood and softwood trees, it’s not true for all.
According to Penn State University, back in the days of two-man saws and whittling wood into tools, the hardest trees to whittle and cut were called hardwoods. The trees easiest to work with and cut, they considered softwoods.
When scientists came around with their calipers and notepads, they were not convinced this is how they should categorize hardwood and softwood. Instead, they noticed the trees labeled ‘hardwood’ were all deciduous trees that shed their leaves in the fall. All the softwoods were evergreen.
At last, they found a labeling system for hardwoods and softwoods!… right?
Well, as they moved west and south, it became a lot more confusing as some fall-shedders turned out to be softwoods, and some evergreens turned out to be hardwoods.
Nowadays, they use a method called the Janka-ball hardiness test to categorize trees into hardwoods and softwoods. The test is as bizarre as it sounds, involving a hard metal ball shot into the wood.
Nonetheless, silver oaks, silky oaks, whatever you may call them, are used to make musical instruments like guitars and violins. They can also be used as veneer wood on instruments.
Silver Oaks Are Used As Reforestation Trees
Reforestation is an important response to the continually rising population in the United States. For many years, the rate of forest growth to forest cutdowns has been relatively stable, but with population growth comes forest decline.
But reforestation isn’t as simple as throwing a few seeds down and waiting for the trees to grow. Scientists have gotten reforestation down to, well, an exact science!
According to the Virginia Department of Forestry, when a forest is first establishing itself, it is just an open field of grasses and shrubs. Lightweight seeds get carried on the wind and deposited in the field. These first trees are called ‘pioneer’ trees and grow fast in a full-sun environment.
Despite establishing and growing quickly, pioneer trees do not live as long as other trees established later on. As the pioneer trees grow, other trees that are long-lived and do not require full sun creep up.
As the pioneer trees die off, the later trees establish themselves, and the forest is considered established.
Silver oak trees typically live around 100 years. They are sun-loving and fast-growing, making them excellent candidates for pioneer trees in the reforestation process.
Reforestation activities using silver oak trees are limited to the environments they can survive in. Silver oaks are not a good choice for reforesting areas in northern Montana, for example, as the cold-intolerant trees would not survive.
Instead, silver oaks stick to warm climates like the southern regions of Florida, Texas, and California.
Silver Oak Trees Provide Nesting Areas For Native Birds
Trees are an important part of most ecosystems. They provide food, shade, shelter, and homes to many animals, big and small.
Beetles, ants, bees, birds, squirrels, and bears all rely on trees, which are always giving to nature! Silver oak trees are no different. If you have one in your yard, you can expect tons of wildlife to be attracted to them:
- Birds: Native birds will make nests in silver oak trees, using leaf litter and twigs to make a comfy home. Since silver oak trees are large and evergreen, they provide the perfect amount of shade and protection for nesting birds.
These trees also attract birds because of their nectar. The bright yellow-orange flowers that bloom in the spring will bring plenty of beautiful birds around.
- Insects: Just like birds, pollinating insects will be attracted to the colorful flowers blooming in the spring. The colorful flowers of the silver oak tree attract bees and ants.
- Mammals: Some trees attract animals because of the fruit it drops, such as the acorns dropped from an oak tree. Silver oaks do not attract animals with their fruit, but they are attractive to animals like squirrels and raccoons who may nest in any hollow cavities of the tree.
You can learn more about how oak tree leaves attract these types of creatures as well here: 5 Animals & Insects That Eat Oak Tree Leaves.
Problems With Silver Oak Trees
Silver oak trees are pretty useful, not only for nature and animals but for people too! However, before you plant silver oak trees in your yard, let’s check out some drawbacks.
Silver Oak Trees Are Susceptible To Lightning & Wind Damage
Your tall and stately silver oak tree may grow fast and far, but it may not last. Because silver oaks are so tall, they are often hit by lightning according to the. This is one more reason not to plant these trees close to your home.
If your oak tree has been struck by lightning, you can read Oak Tree Struck By Lightning? What Happens & How To Save It to learn more about the upcoming necessary processes.
Another weather-related problem with silver oak trees is wind damage. The branches and tips of the tree are rather brittle as the tree gets older. A powerful gust of wind in a storm can cause branches to fall off and even the tips of the tree to break.
Silver Oaks Cause Extensive Leaf Litter
As we just mentioned, silver oak trees are susceptible to inclement weather. They truly are picky trees! Too much wind, rain, lightning, and silver oaks get upset…
Unfortunately, branches are not the only brittle part of the tree in a windstorm. Although silver oaks are evergreen, their leaves are often shed on windy days, creating large amounts of leaf litter.
Not cool for the homeowner obsessed with a clean landscape…
Wrapping Things Up
Silver oak trees prefer full sun, warm temperatures, and aren’t big on cold, windy, or wet conditions. These trees serve many purposes in the extreme southern regions of the United States, like Florida, Texas, and California.
To recap, here are 10 silver oak tree uses:
- Ornamental landscape tree
- Shade tree
- Honey tree/nectar for animals
- Veneer wood
- Doors, windows, & cabinets
- Musical instruments
- Nesting for native birds & mammals
In terms of the average homeowner, the qualities most important on this list would be using silver oaks as an ornamental tree, shade tree, fuelwood, and for wildlife viewing.
Silver oak trees are also important in the timber industry and for reforestation projects. However, declines in the native population of silver oak trees have made them less available for commercial production.
So, if you have a silver oak tree in your yard, cherish it. It might be the only one around for many, many miles!
If you are interested in learning more about the trees around your yard, check out our homepage for more information on oaks, maples, apples, and all kinds of different trees. You will not ‘be-leaf’ all the information we have!
If you’d like to learn more about oak trees in general, check out our guide on the most popular fallen oak tree uses here!
Afzal, M., Farman, M., Rasib, K. Z., & Qureshi, N. A. (2019, April). Biocidal action of silver oak (Grevillea robusta) leaf extract on the termite Heterotermes indicola Wasmann (Blattodea: Rhinotermitidae). International Biodeterioration & Biodegredation, 139, 1-10.
Besley, J. (2009, July). This noble species: Grevillea robusta. Australian Garden History, 21(1), 4-8.
Kalinganire, A., Harwood, C. E., Slee, M. U., & Simons, A. J. (2002, January 15). Pollination and fruit-set of Grevillea robusta in western Kenya. Austral Ecology, 26(6), 637-648.
Owate, O. A., Mware, M. J., & Kinyanjui, M. J. (2018). Allometric Equations for Estimating Silk Oak (Grevillea robusta) Biomass in Agricultural Landscapes of Maragua Subcounty, Kenya. International Journal of Forestry Research, 2018, 14.