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A Floridata Plant Profile #963 Quercus muehlenbergii
Common Names: chinkapin oak, yellow chestnut oak, chinquapin oak, yellow oak
Family: Fagaceae (beech Family)
Wallpaper Gallery (2 images)

tree  Edible Plant Provides Autumn Color
trunk of mature chinkapin oak
A mature chinkapin oak presents colorful autumn foliage against a bright blue Ohio sky.
chinkapin oak fall foliage
Chinkapin oak leaves in autumn just as they are turning from summer green to autumn yellow.
Chinkapin oak is a medium size deciduous tree in the white oak group (i.e., leaves lack bristle tips and acorns mature in a single season). Chinkapin oak normally gets 60-80 ft (18.3-24.4 m) tall with a clean, straight trunk and a narrow, rounded crown. The bark is light ashy gray and broken into thin, narrow flakes. The coarsely toothed leaves are 4-7 in (10.2-17.8 cm) long, and relatively narrow, just a third to a half as wide as they are long. They resemble the leaves of chestnut. Leaves are yellowish green in summer, turning yellow-brown or red in fall. The acorns are 0.5-1 in (1.3-2.5 cm) long but usually less than 0.75 in (1.9 cm). They are enclosed for almost half their length in a scaly cup that has hairs on the scales, these creating a fringe along the margin of the cup. The acorns are sweet and edible, and mature in a single season. Near the northern limits of its range, chinkapin oak often grows as a shrub. It attains it greatest size in the lower Ohio and Wabash River valleys of southern Illinois and Indiana.

Chinkapin oak resembles chestnut oak (Q. prinus) and swamp chestnut oak (Q. michauxii) but both of them have acorns that are more than an inch long.

chinkapin oak foliage and acorn
This is the foliage and acorns of the chinkapin oak in early October. The inset shows detail of the artfully patterned acorn.
Chinkapin oak occurs naturally in the midwestern and eastern U.S., but not on the Coastal Plain. It ranges from western New England and southern Michigan, through Ohio and all of West Virginia, south through the Appalachian Mountains and western Georgia (but not at high elevations), thence west to the Texas Hill Country, eastern Oklahoma and eastern Kansas, all of Missouri and Illinois, and eastern Iowa. Chinkapin oak occurs in Florida only on bluffs and slopes in the Apalachicola River Valley from Jackson to Leon Counties. Throughout its range, chinkapin oak grows in well drained soils on upland sites, especially bluffs and slopes, and characteristically on limestone outcrops. Chinkapin oak is not common anywhere within its range.

mature chinkapin oak
This centenarian chinkapin oak has long made his home in the Ohio River Valley at Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, Cincinnati, Ohio.
trunk of mature chinkapin oak
Flaking, ash gray bark clothes the massive bole and mighty branches of an ancient chinkapin oak.

Chinkapin oak grows naturally in calcareous, alkaline soils, and may not do well in acidic soils. It grows rapidly when young.
Light: In the open, chinkapin oak develops a wide spreading crown; in the forest, competing with other trees, it retains a narrow crown. Seedlings are tolerant of shade, but saplings and young trees soon become intolerant.
Moisture: Chinkapin oak tolerates normal droughts. It requires a well drained soil.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 8.
Propagation: Acorns will germinate without any pretreatment as soon as they are mature.

Chinkapin oak is a handsome tree, but one that is rarely found in cultivation. It would make a fine specimen for parks, estates and larger lawns. Because it is not a large tree and is relatively uncommon over its natural range, chinkapin oak is of little commercial value, despite the fact that the wood is of excellent quality, similar to that of white oak (Quercus alba). The sweet acorns are relished by wildlife and are even palatable to humans.

It is said that chinkapin oaks in the original forests of the Ohio Valley reached 160 ft (48.8 m)in height with trunk diameters of more than 5 ft (1.5 m). The National Champion now, in Clark County, Kentucky, is 110 ft (33.5 m) tall with a trunk diameter of 6.8 ft.

10/17/02; updated 11/11/03, 9/25/04, 11/11/10

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