Photo by Jason RoddaName: Quercus muehlenbergii
Common name: Chinkapin oak
Description: Up to 60 feet high and wide with a spreading habit. Saw-toothed leaves grow up to 8 inches long.
Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9.
Exposure: Full sun.
For customers with room to roam, the chinkapin oak is an excellent choice. This large species grows up to 60 feet tall with a similar spread. This tree doesn’t ask for much – it’s drought tolerant and grows well in alkaline soils.
The chinkapin (also known as chinquapin) has a huge distribution range, from Vermont to Georgia and from Texas to Ohio.
The late George Ware, former dendrologist emeritus at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill., called the chinkapin his favorite oak because of its versatility.
“It is a tough tree, tolerating a wide range of soils of limestone origin. Young trees often have dominant central trunks during their early years,” Ware said. “Large trees with spreading branches sometimes may be seen in city parks in the Midwest. Its spreading roots need unconfined space.”
These characteristics spurred the Society of Municipal Arborists to name the chinkapin oak its 2009 Urban Tree of the Year.
This species does not have any serious pest or disease problems.
“Chinkapin oak has been an excellent choice for Midland College due to the lack of surface roots and little or no pests or diseases of major concern,” says Terry Kirkland, grounds superintendent at Midland College in Midland, Texas. “There have been no invasive tendencies with seedling or root suckers as can be seen here with other oak species. Oak wilt is present in our area, however, the white oaks appear to have a certain resistance.”
In the Landscape
Besides its urban-friendly attributes, the tree also a handsome tree.
“One would be hard-pressed not to notice the rich texture of the bark or the movement of the leaves fluttering in the slightest breeze,” says Lorri Berkley Grueber, arborist and horticulturist for the Lake Saint Louis, Mo.
In the landscape, plant small trees in fall with “a generous circle of double-ground mulch that’s 3-4 inches deep,” Ware said. “Special care is important during the first growing season – mostly watering, trunk protection and mulch.”
Not unlike other oaks, the chinkapin is a slow grower at the start but then takes off, says Nina Bassuk, a professor of and program leader at Cornell University's Urban Horticulture Program.
“I estimate that it is in the middle range of oak transplant ease – not as difficult as a white or bur oak, but not as easy as a swamp white oak,” Bassuk says. “After the obligate sleep, creep, leap, it truly seems to grow rapidly.”
Unforgiving regions are no match for this species – it’s heat and drought resistant.
“The summers here are very dry and very hot, and the chinkapin oak is extremely heat tolerant,” said Kelly Eby, urban forester with New Braunfels, Texas.
Midland College’s Kirkland also likes the tree for its drought tolerance. Midland gets about 10-15 inches of rain per year.