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Featured Plant

Chinkapin Oak

Chinkapin Oak - Quercus muhlenbergii
Location: Southwest of the Maintenance Building. (Map)

The common names for this tree are found in the literature and markets with a variety of spellings, such as Chinqapin and Chinkapin, and with even more pronunciations than spellings. Chinquapin oaks have a strong resemblance to trees in the genus Castanopsis (Chinquapins) that are also in the oak or beech family Fagaceae. The leaves of these two trees are very much alike; both have serrated margins and prominent veins. Another common name for Quercus muehlenbergii is the Chestnut Oak. The genus name is the old Latin name for oaks; the specific epithet honors G. H. E. Muehlenberg (1753-1815). He was a minister and pioneer botanist in Pennsylvania.

The genus Quercus has some small shrub-like trees, but the word “oak” usually brings to mind the majestic and beautiful trees such as the Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) or the Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)with its huge acorns. Oaks are sturdy long-lived trees that are widely distributed in many parts of the world except in the tropical regions and in Africa. Oak trees make up large forested areas from Mexico across the United States and into Canada. The species found in Central Texas grow from 40 to 60 feet tall, but they get taller in East Texas and in the eastern states. Oaks are separated into two groups based on when the fruits mature. The White Oak Group produces fruit (acorns) in the fall after spring flowering; the Red/Black Oak Group produces fruit (acorns) that mature the second fall after spring flowering. The Quercus muehlenbergii is in the Sub-genus Leucobalanus (Leuco=white; balanus =acorn).

Chinquapin oaks are medium to large trees. When they are young, they tend to be upright and oval in shape spreading outward as they age. They grow on well-drained deep calcareous soils and do especially well along the banks of creeks and rivers. These oaks are deciduous, i.e. they shed their leaves in the fall. Their color in the fall is a faint bronze with some tinges of red and yellow, not the striking reds and yellows of some of the other oak species. These trees are also monoecious, i.e. they have separate staminate flowers and pistillate flowers on the same plant. The pistillate flowers are inconspicuous, but the green caterpillar-like catkins are obvious in the spring when they shed their lime green pollen over the entire landscape and when they fall from the trees and blanket driveways and sidewalks. The pollen is wind-blown, which promotes cross-pollination and in some cases allergies. The fruits are solitary or paired acorns that are sessile or on short peduncles. The acorns are a shiny-brown and are enclosed for about half of their length (1/2 to ¾ of an inch) by a cup of compressed scales. The kernel of an acorn has a sweet taste if the tannins are leached out. Acorns are a valuable food supply for wildlife and, in some instances, for humans.

Oaks have been of great economic importance throughout history. Many products from ships, lumber and railroad ties to bottle corks are made from oaks. One characteristic of the White Oaks, i.e. the clogged vessels of the heartwood that make the wood impervious to liquids, has made their wood valuable for cooperage in the wine and liquor industries.

Chinquapin oaks are lovely trees that do well in Central Texas and will enhance any landscape. They grow fairly fast and are relatively free of insect damage or disease problems.


References:
Diggs, Jr., George M., Barney L. Lipscomb, Robert J. O’Kennon. Shinners & Mahler’s Flora of North Central Texas
Gledhill, D. The Names of Plants 2nd Ed.
Nokes, Jill. How to Grow Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest.
Sargent, Charles Sprague. Manual of the Trees of North America. Vol. 2
Simpson, Benny J. A Field Guide to Texas Trees.
Stein, J. D. Binion, R. Acciavatti. Field Guide to Native Oak Species of Eastern North America.
Tekiela, Stan. Trees of Texas.
Vines, Robert A. Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines of the Southwest.