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Chinkapin Oak Quercus muehlenbergii


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Chinkapin Oak, acorn and leaves
credit: Utah Water-Wise Plants

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Alternate name: Chinquapin Oak, Chestnut Oak

Family: Fagaceae, Beech view all from this family

Description Sometimes spelled chinquapin oak, this member of the white oak group (Quercus sect. Quercus) is native to eastern and central North America, ranging from Vermont west to Wisconsin and south to South Carolina, western Florida, New Mexico, and northeastern Mexico from Coahuila south to Hidalgo.

Key characteristics of Quercus muehlenbergii:
The leaf base is typically rather rounded.
The veins and sinuses are regular.
Acorns on short stalks and turn chestnut brown in the fall.
The leaves have sharp teeth but no bristles.

Chinkapin oak is monoecious in flowering habit; flowers emerge in April to late May or early June. The staminate flowers are borne in catkins that develop from the leaf axils of the previous year, and the pistillate flowers develop from the axils of the current year's leaves. The fruit, an acorn or nut, is borne singly or in pairs, matures in 1 year, and ripens in September or October. About half of the acorn is enclosed in a thin cup and is chestnut brown to nearly black.

The low-growing, cloning Q. prinoides (dwarf chinkapin oak) is similar to Q. muehlenbergii and has been confused with it in the past, but is now generally accepted as a distinct species. Chinkapin oak is usually a tree, but occasionally shrubby, while dwarf chinkapin oak is a low-growing, clone-forming shrub. The two species generally occur in different habitats: chinquapin oak is typically found on calcareous soils and rocky slopes, while dwarf chinkapin oak is usually found on acidic substrates, primarily sand or sandy soils, and also dry shales.

Chinkapin oak is also sometimes confused with the related chestnut oak (Q. montana or Q. prinus). However, unlike the pointed teeth on the leaves of the chinkapin oak, chestnut oak leaves generally have rounded teeth. The two species have contrasting kinds of bark: Chinkapin oak has a gray, flaky bark very similar to that of white oak (Q. alba) but with a more yellow-brown cast to it (hence the occasional name yellow oak for this species), while chestnut oak has dark, solid, deeply ridged bark. The chinkapin oak also has smaller acorns than the chestnut oak or swamp chestnut oak (Q. michauxii).

Chinkapin oak is generally found on well-drained upland soils derived from limestone or where limestone outcrops occur. Occasionally it is found on well-drained limestone soils along streams. The Chinkapin oak is generally found on soils that are weakly acid (pH about 6.5) to alkaline (above pH 7.0). It grows on both northerly and southerly aspects but is more common on the warmer southerly aspects. It is absent or rare at high elevations in the Appalachians.

It is rarely a predominant tree, but it grows in association with many other species.

The scientific name is often incorrectly spelled Q. muhlenbergii, and the species was often called Quercus acuminata in older literature.

Habitat Scrub, shrub & brushlands, Watersides (fresh).

Range Texas, Southwest, Florida, New England, Plains, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes.

Comments Slow-growing and long-lived. No serious disease or insect pests.

Exposure Preference Sun.

Native Distribution Vermont & New York to n.w. Florida, w. to s. Wisconsin & extreme s.e. Minnesota, s.e. Nebraska, e. Kansas & c. Texas

Site Preference Limestone outcrops; dry hillsides; rich bottomlands

Soil Preference Shallow, sandy, alkaline loams. pH 6.6-8.

Wildlife Value Attracts songbirds, ground birds and mammals