Chinkapin Oak

Quercus muehlenbergii

Description & Overview

Chinkapin Oak loves alkaline soil! This tree is a reliable grower, even in the poorest of sites. The small, sweet acorns are possibly the most preferred by wildlife. The chestnut-like leaves and bright fall colors make Chinkapin Oak a bold statement in any landscape. May also be known as Chinquapin Oak, Yellow Oak.

Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 50-60 feet
Mature Spread: 50-60 feet
Growth Rate: Very Slow
Growth Form: Tree, open-rounded canopy
Light Requirements: Full Sun
Site Requirements: Requires alkaline soil, adaptable to most soils except wet
Flower: Monoecious, insignificant male and female flowers emerge in spring with leaves.
Bloom Period: April-June; variable
Foliage: Dark Green
Fall Color: Yellow, Orange, Brown
Fruit Notes: Acorn, small, shiny chestnut brown to black, singly or in pairs, half-enclosed by the cap, variable infrequent seed crops

Suggested Uses:

Chinkapin Oak is an extremely adaptable tree with an extensive range across the US. It thrives in a multitude of sites, from woodlands to inhospitable barrens. It prefers alkaline soils and should not be sited where the pH is less than 6.5. Use it as a unique specimen planting or a mast tree for wildlife.

Salable #5 RootMaker Chinkapin Oak. Picture taken in late August.

Wildlife Value:

The acorns of Chinkapin Oak, while small, are possibly the most preferred by wildlife. Ben French, our propagator, has a few stories of being attacked by crows while collecting Chinkapin Oak acorns. In addition to crows, you can also find squirrels, deer, chipmunks, turkeys, and other small mammals feasting on these highly prized acorns. As a masting species, Chinkapin Oak does not produce regular amounts of acorns. Instead, the tree will have bumper crops at irregular intervals, producing too many for local wildlife to eat. This leads to the animals caching more acorns than they can consume, functionally planting them for the tree.

Chinkapin Oak is the larval host for the Gray Hairstreak.

Maintenance Tips:

All oaks are susceptible to Two-Lined Chestnut Borer during the establishment period after planting. Apply a systemic insecticide containing Imidacloprid to Chinkapin Oak when planting to protect the tree from this insect.

Do not prune Chinkapin Oak during the growing season. While not as susceptible to Oak Wilt as those in the Red Oak Group, the disease can still damage stressed trees. Prune only during the dormant season in winter after the leaves have fallen.

We invite you to check out the Arborist For Hire lookup at the Wisconsin Arborist Association website to find an ISA Certified Arborist near you.


When healthy, Chinkapin Oak has few significant diseases or insect problems. Occasionally the leaves can be defoliated by Gypsy Moth, Orange Striped Oakworm, and the Variable Oakleaf Caterpillar. Avoiding damage and wounds during the growing season will prevent Chinkapin Oak from being infected by Oak Wilt.

The most important care for Chinkapin Oak is to maintain health and vigor through good mulching and adequate watering. During the first two years after planting, make sure the tree has enough moisture to properly establish its roots. Use a systemic insecticide to protect it from Two-Lined Chestnut Borer.

If stressed, Chinkapin Oak is susceptible to attack by Two-Lined Chestnut Borer, Armillaria Root Rot, Anthracnose, Leaf Blister, and Nectria and Strumella Canker. All of these pests and diseases can be avoided with proper care.

Leaf Lore:

When grown naturally, Oaks develop a coarse, deep root system with a taproot. This has made them historically difficult to transplant as balled-and-burlapped (B&B) trees because much of the root system is lost in the harvesting process. Johnson’s Nursery trees are unique because they are root pruned from the beginning to develop more fibrous fine roots. When harvested, our B&B oaks contain more fibrous roots, making them tougher and easier to transplant than oaks not given our unique treatment process.

The common name ‘Chinkapin’ comes from the resemblance of the leaves to American Chestnut, also known as Chinkapin. It does not have lobed leaves like most other oaks; its leaves are toothed like a chestnut.

Although a beautiful tree, Chinkapin Oak has not been extensively studied due to its small numbers. The wood can be sold as White Oak, but the tree is not found in large enough quantities for silvicultural research. The wood is heavy and is reported to be good firewood.

Chinkapin Oak is the rarest of our native oaks and is considered of Special Concern by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources because of its low population within the state. Chinkapin Oak is native to the southeast and southwest portions of Wisconsin. To the west, the populations tend to follow the Mississippi and Wisconsin River valleys. In the east, the populations are more scattered with a few disjunct groups along the Fox River.

Companion Plants:

If you wish to recreate the natural look of Chinkapin Oak’s native habitat, consider pairing it with Ironwood, Hawthorn, Nannyberry Viburnum, and Smooth Sumac.

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johnson's nursery plant knowledgebase for the midwest tree logo popout 32x32