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Quercus chrysolepis is often confused with:
Notholithocarpus densiflorus
Native alternative(s) for Quercus chrysolepis:
Quercus coccinea Form
Quercus palustris Form, in the early fall.
Quercus rubra Full Form
Quercus virginiana Form of mature tree (Seminole County, GA)-Late Spring
Plants that fill a similar niche:
Salvia rosmarinus Rosmarinus officinalis
Notholithocarpus densiflorus
Juniperus scopulorum Form
Quercus chrysolepis has some common insect problems:
Common Insect Pests of Oak in North Carolina
Oak Pest Management Calendar
Quercus chrysolepis has some common disease problems:
Common Disease Pests of Oak in North Carolina

Gold-Cup Oak Quercus chrysolepis

Previously known as:

  • Quercus chrysolepis var. nana
  • Quercus fulvescens
  • Quercus oblongifolia
  • Quercus wilcoxii
Phonetic Spelling
KWER-kus kris-o-LEP-is
Description

Canyon live oak is a broadleaf evergreen medium-sized tree that may grow to a height of 80 feet and up to 2 feet in diameter. On mountain slopes and ridge tops, it is known to grow as a dense shrub up to 15 feet tall.  The tree has a broad trunk, and the crown may be rounded to spreading. The leaves are evergreen, thick, leathery, and shiny dark green. The margins are usually entire on mature leaves, but young leaves have spiny margins like a holly leaf. Flowering in the spring, the male flowers are wooly catkins, and the female blooms are short spikes. The fruit is an acorn with a distinctive golden wooly cap; hence, its common name, Golden-Cup Oak. This tree grows very slowly, but it can live up to 300 years. It is a member of the Fagaceae or beech family. 

The canyon live oak is native to western Oregon, California, western Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and northeast and northwest Mexico. It is typically found in canyons, moist slopes, or along stream banks. It is considered to be the most beautiful and most widespread oak in California. Growing on steep and rocky slopes helps to stabilize the soils.

The origin of the genus name, Quercus, is Latin and means "oak tree. The origin of the species name, chrysolepis, is the combination of two words. Chryso means "gold," and lepis means "scale". Golden scale refers to the tree's yellowish or golden acorn cap. Many of the common names of this tree reference its distinctive fruit. Maul Oak references its hardwood for use in making mauls for splitting wood.

Canyon Live Oak prefers full sun, well-drained soils, and can tolerate drought once established. It grows best in acidic to neutral pH soils. It is tolerant of most other soil types and exhibits tolerance to salt spray. Oak trees are difficult to transplant due to their sensitive root systems. The tree is best propagated by seeds.

This tree provides a habitat and food source for a variety of wildlife. The acorns are a food source for Steller jays, woodpeckers, wild turkeys, squirrels, bears, and mule deer. Deer may use the foliage for food. Canyon live oak also serves as a host plant for butterflies including the Western Tiger Swallowtail. 

Canyon Live Oak makes an attractive landscape tree. The tree can grow on steep slopes and would help prevent soil erosion.

Seasons of Interest:

Bloom:  Spring          Foliage:  Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter        Fruit:  Fall 

Quick ID Hints:

  • medium-size tree, dense, erect, and widespread branching
  • unlobed, thick, leathery, glossy dark green leaves on the upper surface, and bluish-white with some stellate and glandular hairs on the undersides
  • young leaves are golden and wooly or felt-like on the undersides. 
  • leaf margins vary from entire on mature leaves and spiny on young leaves
  • male flowers catkins and female flower short spikes 
  • chestnut brown acorns with distinctive fuzzy, wooly golden caps 

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: The canyon live oak is susceptible to borers, aphids, and caterpillars. It may also develop sudden oak death and crown rot.  The parasitic plant, Mistletoe, and honey fungus or armillaria are known to occur. Acorns can be destroyed by weevils and worms. Deer may browse seedlings and saplings.

VIDEO created by Ryan Contreras for “Landscape Plant Materials I:  Deciduous Hardwoods and Conifers or Landscape Plant Materials II:  Spring Flowering Trees and Shrubs” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University

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Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#full sun tolerant#drought tolerant#shrub#slow growing#native tree#salt tolerant#broadleaf evergreen#low maintenance#columnar#food source wildlife#deer resistant#acorns#rounded#leathery leaves#evergreen shrub#larval host plant#evergreen tree#dry soils intolerant#fruits mid-fall#flowers mid-spring#erect#landscape plant sleuths course#storm damage resistant
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#full sun tolerant#drought tolerant#shrub#slow growing#native tree#salt tolerant#broadleaf evergreen#low maintenance#columnar#food source wildlife#deer resistant#acorns#rounded#leathery leaves#evergreen shrub#larval host plant#evergreen tree#dry soils intolerant#fruits mid-fall#flowers mid-spring#erect#landscape plant sleuths course#storm damage resistant
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Quercus
    Species:
    chrysolepis
    Family:
    Fagaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Native Americans used acorns as food. The seeds were roasted and used as a form of coffee. The wood is heavy and hard. In the past, it was used for shipbuilding, furniture, fuel, and to make wagon axles and wheels for farm use. It was also used to make mauls or wedges for splitting wood. The wood from this tree may also be used for making paneling.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Western Oregon to New Mexico and Mexico
    Distribution:
    Native: Northeast Mexico and Northwest Mexico; United States--AZ, CA, NV, NM, and OR
    Wildlife Value:
    The tree attracts insects, reptiles, small mammals, butterflies, and birds. Some species of butterflies use the tree as a host plant. Squirrels and birds enjoy eating the seeds.
    Play Value:
    Easy to Grow
    Shade
    Wildlife Cover/Habitat
    Wildlife Food Source
    Wildlife Larval Host
    Dimensions:
    Height: 20 ft. 0 in. - 80 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 30 ft. 0 in. - 60 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Shrub
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Habit/Form:
    Broad
    Columnar
    Dense
    Erect
    Multi-stemmed
    Rounded
    Spreading
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Low
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Shallow Rocky
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    7b, 7a, 8b, 8a, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gold/Yellow
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Nut
    Fruit Length:
    1-3 inches
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is a chestnut brown, ellipsoid, acorn that measures 0.5 to 2 inches in length and 0.5 to 0.75 inches wide. On the base of the acorn is the golden wooly cap that is also thick, shallow, and scaly. The acorns may appear solitary or in pairs. The nut is ovoid, smooth, and measures 15-30 mm long and 10-20 mm wide. They mature in 2 years and are harvested in October.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Cream/Tan
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Catkin
    Spike
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Description:
    It has both male and female flowers. The male flowers are slender, wooly catkins, and the female flowers appear as short spikes. Flowering occurs from April to May, and the pollen is dispersed by the wind.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Broadleaf Evergreen
    Leaf Color:
    Blue
    Gold/Yellow
    Gray/Silver
    Green
    White
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Leathery
    Rough
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Oblong
    Leaf Margin:
    Dentate
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are evergreen, alternate, simple, elliptical to oblong, unlobed, and flat. They measure 1 to 4 inches long, 0.5 to 1.5 inches wide, and have smooth margins to sometimes spinose or slightly dentate margins. The leaves are dark green, thick, shiny, and leathery on the upper surface. The lower surface is bluish-white or gray with stellate and glandular hairs. The undersides of young leaves have a golden wooly appearance.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Light Brown
    Light Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Furrowed
    Scaly
    Bark Description:
    The bark is thin, smooth, and grayish-brown. As the tree ages, the bark develops tight small scales and is narrowly furrowed.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gold/Yellow
    Gray/Silver
    Red/Burgundy
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Buds:
    Scaly
    Stem Surface:
    Hairy (pubescent)
    Stem Description:
    The young stems have orange glandular hairs. The stems are hairy for the first year and moderately hairy for the second year. The terminal buds are 2 to 8 mm and have brown scales. As the tree ages, the stems become smooth and are reddish to grayish-brown.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Coastal
    Meadow
    Slope/Bank
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Drought Tolerant Garden
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Dry Soil
    Salt
    Storm damage