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A Floridata Plant Profile #962 Quercus michauxii
Common Names: swamp chestnut oak, basket oak, cow oak
Family: Fagaceae (beech Family)
Wallpaper Gallery (2 images)

tree  Has Unusual or Interesting Foliage Provides Autumn Color

swamp chestnut oak leaves and acorn
Swamp chestnut oak presents its acorns surrounded by large saw-tooth edged leaves that resemble those of the chestnut (Castanea spp).
Swamp chestnut oak, with its tall straight trunk and ashy pale gray bark is a true forest beauty. Normally reaching 60-80 ft (18.3-24.4 m) in height, with a 2-3 ft (0.6-0.9 m) trunk diameter, some swamp chestnut oaks get over 130 ft (39.6 m) tall with trunk diameters of 7 ft (17.8 m) or more. [The National Champion, growing in NW Alabama, is 200 ft (61 m) tall with a trunk diameter of 5.2 ft (1.6 m) and a canopy spread of 148 ft (45 m).] Swamp chestnut oaks typically have a clean, straight trunk, free of branches for a considerable distance above the ground. The branches tend to rise at a rather sharp angle from the trunk, resulting in a somewhat compact and narrow, rounded crown. The leaves of swamp chestnut oak are deciduous, 5-9 in (12.7-22.9 cm) long, and have 10-14 rounded teeth on each side. The teeth decrease in size toward the tip. The leaves look a little like those of the chestnuts (Castanea spp.), but the teeth on chestnut leaves have little bristles. In fall, the leaves of swamp chestnut oak turn dark red or brown before falling. The acorns are large, to 1.5 in (8.8 cm)long, and enclosed for a third to a half of their length by a bowl shaped cup which is covered with loose, overlapping, hairy scales. The scales may form a fringe around the lip of the cup.

Swamp chestnut oak resembles white oak (Quercus alba) in growth form, size, bark color and wood quality, but the leaves and acorns are very different. It also resembles chestnut oak (Q. prinus) and chinkapin oak (Q. muehlenbergii), but both of these occur on drier sites and: chestnut oak has its acorn cup scales united, not loose, and not forming a fringe around the edge of the cup; and chinkapin oak has smaller acorns, not more than 1 in long.

bark of swamp chestnut oak
The flat scaly bark of the swamp chestnut oak has a distinctive whitish cast that makes its trunk easy to distinguish from other species where it grows.
Swamp chestnut oak grows in bottomlands, along streams, and in rich, moist forests on the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont of the southeastern U.S. It ranges from New Jersey to northern Florida, west to eastern Texas and north through the Mississippi drainage basin to southern Indiana and Illinois. Swamp chestnut oak usually occurs on moist soils that may become saturated for brief periods in most years. It rarely forms pure stands, but normally grows in mixed forests along with other hardwoods such as water oak (Q. nigra), laurel oak (Q. laurifolia), red maple (Acer rubrum), sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) and blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica).


swamp chestnut oak acorn
Here's a closeup of the swamp chestnut oak's acorn.
Click here to download a large version of this picture or click here to download an artsy abstract version of this very same acorn.
Light: Like other forest dwelling trees, swamp chestnut oak seedlings and saplings can persist for years in the shade of larger trees until they are "released" by the death of a forest giant. That's when patience pays off and the little tree can finally grow into the canopy. Position small trees in full sun for the fastest growth.
Moisture:Swamp chestnut oak grows naturally in moist soils and can even withstand brief periods of inundation. However it is killed by flooding for more than a few weeks during the growing season.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 - 8. The natural range of swamp chestnut oak encompasses USDA hardiness zones 6-8, but it is possible that the species would fare well in zones 5-9.
Propagation: The acorns of most white oaks have no dormancy requirement and will germinate immediately after falling. Swamp chestnut oak acorns should not be stored, but planted as soon as possible after harvesting in the fall. Seedlings grow fast, up to 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) in the first year.

a grove of swamp chestnut oaks
Jack's lunch waits for him on a picnic table near a grove of swamp chestnut oak in a Tallahassee Park. These guys are about 40 years old, as seedlings they all "released" together when the land was cleared for the park and they suddenly secured spots in the sunshine.
Swamp chestnut oak deserves to be used more in landscapes. It is fast growing and a beautiful shade tree. They could find use as street trees or specimens on larger campuses and estates.

Swamp chestnut oak is an important timber tree. The wood is similar to that of white oak; it is light brown, strong and durable, and used for flooring, furniture and veneer. Thin strips and fibers, split from the wood, formerly were woven into baskets that were used in the cotton fields. The large acorns are an important wildlife food. They are sweet even without boiling and can be eaten raw. They must have been an important food source to Native Americans. The acorns are relished by cattle, hence the name "cow oak."

The oaks are divided into two groups: white oaks and red or black oaks. Swamp chestnut oak is a member of the white oak group, characterized by acorns that mature in a single season and leaves that lack bristle tips. There are some 500 species of oaks occurring mainly in the Northern Hemisphere, but with a few species extending into the tropics at high elevations.

10/2/02; updated 11/11/03

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