Myrtle oak

Quercus myrtifolia
Family: Fagaceae

Natural History

Myrtle oak, sometimes called shrubby oak, is a small, evergreen tree that often grows into unusual, contorted forms due to exposure to coastal winds. It resprouts easily from rhizomous roots and frequently grows into dense thickets. Its regenerative ability makes it quick to recover after a fire.

While there is no real commercial value for the wood of myrtle oak, some folk legends attribute magical powers to the plants that are believed to bestow love, passion, and fertility upon the users.

The acorns from myrtle oak are ready early in the season and provide an important source of food for many wildlife. The high carbohydrate, high fat nuts are eaten by wild turkey, quail, squirrels, raccoons, black bear, deer, and numerous rodents. The dense, thickets provide excellent nesting and cover sites for birds, including the Florida scrub jay, an endangered species.

Myrtle oak is usually found close to salt water along the sandy ridges on the shorelines and islands from South Carolina, throughout coastal Florida, and west into Mississippi. Other species associated with myrtle oak include sand pine, longleaf pine, Chapman oak, sand live oak, and laurel oak.


Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Myrtle oak is a small, evergreen tree with only the largest of these trees reaching heights of 35' to 40'. It is often shrubby, forming tangled thickets but may grow into a twisted, wind-shaped tree with an irregular or rounded crown.
Leaves: The leaves are simple, alternately arranged, oval to oblong and 1" to 2" long by ¼" to 1½" wide. They have a shiny, leathery, dark green upper surface and underneath are yellowish-green or orange-brown and mostly smooth. Leaf bases are rounded to wedge-shaped and the leaf tips are rounded or occasionally have a bristle tip. The margins are smooth and turned under.
Fruit: The fruit is a small, ½", nearly round acorn with a saucer-shaped cap that covers 1/3 of the nut. The nuts have dark stripes and may be sessile and are usually borne singly, rarely in pairs or clusters. The acorns mature in two growing seasons.
Bark: The bark is grayish-brown and thin with shallow furrows and ridges.
Habitat: Myrtle oak grows on sandy soils in scrub forests and coastal dunes, near salt water, and on offshore islands. It may sometimes be found inland, in sandy upland locations.



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