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This small tree or shrub, a member of the white oak group, has chestnut-type leaves and most commonly grows 10 to 15 feet tall. It thrives in full sun and adapts to a wide range of soil conditions, including alkaline and poor soils. The dense foliage of the broad, rounded crown turns a warm orange-brown in the fall, and the rough-textured gray bark and quirky branch structure create a beautiful silhouette in winter. After only three or four years, it begins producing yearly crops of mild-tasting acorns that appeal to wildlife. It’s distinguished from its larger relative, chinkapin oak, by its shorter stature, leaves with fewer lobes, and tolerance for acidic soils.

 

Native habitats include sunny sites with rocky or acidic, sandy soils, dry plains, rocky glades, exposed ridges and woodland edges. Use in an open woodland setting (it doesn’t tolerate competition from taller trees), or as a shade or specimen tree for smaller yards. Plant in areas with poor, dry soil to help with erosion. Site carefully as it is difficult to transplant because of its long tap root.

 

Plant Characteristics:

Grows 10-15’ (rarely up to 20' tall and wide).

 

Prefers full sun; tolerates part sun.

 

Grows in well-drained clay, loam, sand, shallow, rocky, acidic, neutral, or alkaline soils. Tolerates poor soil and drought.

 

Drooping, yellowish-green male catkins and clusters of green-to-reddish-green female flowers grow on the same tree.

 

Female flowers develop into brown or nearly black acorns covered by scaly caps.

 

Topsides of leaves are yellowish green to green and undersides are grayish green to white. There are 5-9 asymmetrical, shallow lobes along the margins. Fall color is orange to copper to golden brown.

 

Short trunk is covered with gray, rough-textured, irregularly fissured bark. Patches of reddish brown may be seen where outer bark has peeled away. Gray branches have a smoother texture with scattered lenticels and grow in an ascending to spreading form.

 

Wildlife Value:

Host plant to 477 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including some of our showiest moths: imperial, giant leopard, clymene, and spun glass slug.

 

The acorns are eaten by wood ducks, wild turkeys, bobwhite quails, crows, woodpeckers, common grackles, blue jay, nuthatches, tufted titmice, eastern towhee, and other birds. Foxes, deer, opossums, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, and white-footed mice also eat the nuts. Because of its small size, the tree provides cover and nesting habitat for the prairie warbler and other songbirds.

 

Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Oak galls that form on the leaves of this tree have been used medicinally as a styptic to control bleeding and diarrhea.

 

Nutmeats may be dried, ground into a powder, and used to thicken stews or make bread. The seed contains bitter tannins, which can be leached out, resulting in a sweet-tasting nut that gives rise to a common name “dwarf chestnut oak.” The roasted seeds are sometimes used as a coffee substitute.

Oak, Dwarf Chinkapin, Quercus prinoides

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