Quercus Quest

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A great value added travel joy to the nature and nurture plants-persons within us is trying to figure out the identity of unfamiliar plants. At a Vermont rest area this weekend there were some beautiful oaks (Quercus spp.) with long, maybe 10” long, leaves.  They were in the white oak group, which is a group of oaks with rounded leaf lobes and acorns that develop in one year. Oaks in this group do tend to hybridize readily with each other, but not hybridize with the red/black oak group that have bristle hairs on the tips of the leaf lobes, and which take two years to develop acorns. 


New and older oak leaves


I consulted my resident oak expert, Kathy Smith, OSU’s Woodland Steward leader, who was in Vermont as well at the same conference I attended. An additional aspect she brought up was if I had a picture of the acorns, key to oak ID and whether or not the acorns had conspicuous peduncles (fruit=acorn stalks).  I did have a picture of the developing acorns, but they had not developed enough for positive identification. They did have peduncles of an inch or a little more. With the leaf shape and the length of the peduncles, Kathy suggests that the oaks I saw and that are pictured here were one of the following:

chestnut oak, Quercus prinus

chinkapin oak, Q. muehlenbergii

swamp white oak, Q. bicolor  

English oak, Q. robur

Or (see above) some form of hybrid of these.  Nature often colors outside the lines!


Oak leaves old and new


One last plant ID note: Plants often confound us with leaves of different size from the top of the plant to lower on the plant, in the sun and not, newly developing and fully expanding. This variability extends to differential color, as seen on this final picture from this same oak.