Chinkapin Oak

Chinkapin Oak - Quercus muehlenbergii
Beech Family (Fagaceae)


Introduction: Chinkapin oak is a member of the white oak group with chestnut-type leaves. Unlike most white oaks, chinkapin oak is tolerant of alkaline soil. Its whitish bark and branch structure create a beautiful silhouette in winter. In summer, excellent foliage is appreciated for its shade. In fall, yellow leaves contrast with the nearly white bark.
Culture: The chinkapin oak prefers full sun and adapts to a wide range of soil conditions. It is tolerant of alkaline soils, unlike most white oaks, which develop chlorosis, or the yellowing of leaves, when grown under high pH conditions. Chinkapin oak is somewhat difficult to transplant. It has no serious disease or insect problems. However, as little as 1 inch of fill soil can kill an oak.


Botanical Information
  • Native habitat: New England to northeastern Mexico on limestone outcrops.
  • Growth habit: Because this tree has a diverse range, its form varies with location. It tends to have an open, rounded crown.
  • Tree size: The chinkapin oak can reach a height of 40 to 50 feet in the landscape and 70 to 80 feet in the wild. Spread tends to be equal to or greater than height.
  • Flower and fruit: Female flowers are inconspicuous; male catkins are pendulous. The small acorn is three-quarters of an inch to an inch long with a thin cap.
  • Leaf: Yellow-green above and pale below, the chestnut-like leaves flutter, aspen-like, in the breeze. Fall color is yellow to brown.
  • Hardiness: Winter hardy to USDA Zone 5.


Additional information:
The wood of the chinkapin oak has been used for split-rail fences, railroad ties and construction lumber. It is noted historically for its role in fueling steamships along the Ohio River. While this durable wood made excellent fences in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana, when farms fell by the way, the wooden fences were collected and placed on the river bank to sell to passing engineers.
The chinkapin oak's tolerance of alkaline soils, variable habit and narrow leaves make it an ideal candidate for oak breeding programs. In its native range, this species prefers rich land with a high water table. Consequently, it has been cleared to use the ideal conditions for agricultural endeavors.
Chinkapin oak's specific epithet, muehlenbergii, commemorates Gotthilf H.E. Mühlenberg, a Pennsylvania minister and botanist in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The national champion chinkapin oak, located in Clark County, Ky., is 110 feet tall with a 92-foot spread.

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