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Kathy Saucier

Becca Dickstein: Consider planting the chinquapin oak, a medium-large shade tree

Becca Dickstein
Becca Dickstein

Chinquapin oak, Quercus muehlenbergii, was designated a Texas Superstar by Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, which has noted that it is underused as a shade tree and should be planted more.

It is relatively fast-growing for an oak and is also relatively free of pests and diseases. Resistant to oak wilt disease, chinquapin oak will usually grow up to 70 feet tall, with a trunk up to 3 feet in diameter. This white oak is native in northeast and central Texas.

In spring and summer, it has glossy green, oblong, saw-toothed leaves that are up to 7 inches long and 4 inches wide. Chinquapin oak is among the last trees to lose its leaves in the fall, which turn golden yellow to bronze. Chinquapin oak produces both male fuzzy catkin-type flowers in the spring that are green, yellow or brown and inconspicuous female catkins. These are followed by acorns that start green and turn chestnut brown in the fall. The acorns are one-half to 1 1/2 inches in diameter and are said to be edible when roasted.

Fall, winter and early spring are good times of year to plant a tree in North Texas. Full sun or partial shade is best for chinquapin oak and it should be planted where it will have room to grow. It does best in neutral or slightly alkaline soils but will tolerate acidic soils. It must have well-drained soil. Although chinquapin oak is drought tolerant, newly planted trees should be watered during a dry spell. Once established, chinquapin oak will only need water during extreme drought.

Chinquapin’s common name refers to the similarity of its leaves to Allegheny chinquapin, Castanea pumila, in the chestnut tree family. The scientific species name Q. muehlenbergii honors Gotthilf Muhlenberg (1753-1815), a Pennsylvania botanist and Lutheran minister.

Chinquapin oak is the larval host for the gray hairstreak butterfly. Good companion plants include xeric shade-tolerant groundcovers like horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis), wood fern (Woodsia obtuse), cedar sedge (Carex planostachys) and pigeonberry (Rivina humilis).

Look for the NICE! Plant of the Season signs and information sheets on your next visit to a participating North Texas nursery. Participating nurseries include Four Seasons Nursery, Meador Nursery and Painted Flower Farm, all in Denton; Shades of Green Nursery in Frisco and Schmitz Garden Center in Flower Mound. Thank you for using native plants in your landscapes.

BECCA DICKSTEIN is on the University of North Texas biological sciences faculty and is a member of the Trinity Forks Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas, which meets the fourth Thursday in January through June and in September and October at 6:30 p.m. on the second floor of Texas Woman’s University’s Ann Stuart Science Complex.