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Chinkapin oak is native to the Midwest, where it is often found as a specimen planting or as part of a grouping of trees in parks and large areas. Chinkapin oaks are found on dry, limestone outcrops in the wild and perform well in alkaline soils. Its glossy, coarsely-toothed leaves are yellow-green and small compared to most oaks. Young trees retain a pyramidal to oval habit with a pale gray, scaly ridged central trunk. As trees age, the crown becomes more rounded.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

  • Family (English) Beech; Oak
  • Family (botanic) Fagaceae
  • Planting site Residential and parks
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Mature height 50-80 feet
  • Mature width 50-70 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7
  • Soil preference Alkaline soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, clay soil, Dry sites
  • Season of interest mid fall, late fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Pyramidal, Round
  • Growth rate Moderate, Slow
  • Transplants well Yes
  • Planting considerations Messy fruit/plant parts
  • Wildlife Game birds, Game mammals, Migrant birds, Small mammals
  • Has cultivars No

Native geographic location and habitat:

C-Value: 8. Native to eastern and central United States.

Bark color and texture:

Mature bark is ashy-gray with flaky, scaly ridges and plates. The scales are separated by shallow fissures.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:

Leaves are alternate, variable in shape and size, and coarsely toothed with each tooth ending in a point. They are 4 to 6 inches long, dark green, and smooth above and often pale and slightly hairy beneath. Fall color is yellow to orange-brown to brown.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

Male and female flowers are borne separately on the same tree in April and May. Male flowers are clusters of hanging catkins. Female flowers are inconspicuous tiny spikes found in the axils of new leaves.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Fruit is a small, solitary, 1/2 inch long acorn with a thin, bowl-shaped, warty cap covering half of the nut. Ripe fruit is dark brown to black.

Plant care:

Best grown in rich, deep soils but often found in the wild on dry, limestone outcrops in low slopes and wooded hillsides. One of the best oaks for alkaline soils. Prune oaks in the dormant season to avoid attracting beetles that may carry oak wilt.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:

Anthracnose, oak wilt, two-lined chestnut borer can all be problems for this tree.


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