TREES & plants

Chinkapin oak

Leaves and acorns of chinkapin oak.

Chinkapin oak is native to the Midwest, where it is often found as a specimen planting or as a grouping of tree for 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.

Botanical name: 
Quercus muehlenbergii
All Common Names: 
Chinkapin oak, Chinquapin oak, yellow chestnut oak, yellow oak, rock oak
Family (English): 
Beech; Oak
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area, 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks
Landscape Uses: 
  • Shade tree, 
  • Specimen
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 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7
Soil Preference: 
  • Alkaline soil, 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Intolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Intolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Tolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • Messy fruit/plant parts
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Fall color
Season of Interest: 
  • Mid fall, 
  • Late fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Pyramidal, 
  • Round
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow, 
  • Moderate
Transplants Well: 
  • Yes
  • Game birds, 
  • Game mammals, 
  • Migrant birds, 
  • Small mammals
More Information: 

Tree & 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.

Disease, pests, and problems

Anthracnose, oak wilt, two-lined chestnut borer.

Native geographic location and habitat

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

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

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

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Borne separately on 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

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.

Quercus muehlenbergii or Chinkapin oak