Zilker Neighborhood Gardens

Commentary by a National Wildlife Steward who helps Zilker neighbors establish native plant gardens

Native Profile: Chinquapin Oak

I chose to plant a chinquapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii), native to the U.S., in my front yard. Mine looks nothing like the picture below, since I just planted it in October, 2010. But my front yard had no trees, so we had to get something going. It probably won’t provide a lot of shade for 5-10 years, but you have to start the trees off at some point.

Picture of Chinquapin Oak

This tree is deciduous and can grow up to 72 feet tall. Its leaves grow wider at the end. The acorns are about 2″ in size. It can grow in sun or part shade and can tolerate dry, rocky soils. From what I read in Garrett’s book, it loves rocky soils like in the hill country. The rockier, the better. The acorns are edible after a long process of boiling to remove the bitterness. I read from one book where they used them to make pancakes, but the task sounds arduous.

The chinquapin oak is a larval host for the Gray Hairstreak butterfly. This means that the Gray Hairstreak butterfly will lay eggs on the leaves of the chinquapin oak. When the eggs hatch into larvae, the larvae (or caterpillar) eats the leaves of the oak until they move onto the pupae stage of growth into butterflies.

This is still a great time to plant a tree or trees. It gives the trees some time to get established before the heat of summer begins. You should water your tree about 1″ a week while getting established. The chinquapin oak grows relatively fast and has few pests. Plus, it is kind of fun to say chinquapin! Remember, this becomes a very large tree, so don’t plant it under the electrical lines!

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