Swamp chestnut oak

Quercus michauxii
Family: Fagaceae

Natural History
Leaves of swamp chestnut oak
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

Swamp chestnut oak, also called basket or cow oak, is a handsome member of the white oak group known for its large, fuzzy, coarsely-toothed leaves and big acorns, some of the largest in Florida.

White-tailed deer, turkey, squirrels, and hogs eat the acorns. Cows also eat the acorns, as the common name 'cow oak' suggests.

Like many oaks, swamp chestnut makes a good shade tree with its broad, spreading branches and large leaves.

The light brown wood is hard, strong, and durable and is used for flooring, veneer, furniture, farming tools, posts, and barrels. It is has also been used to make baskets, which is where another of its common names comes from. The quality of the wood is similar to white oak but swamp chestnut oak is not as widespread or abundant as white oak.

Swamp chestnut oaks are found from New Jersey to Florida and throughout the Mississippi River Valley, Illinois, and Ohio.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Habitat: Swamp chestnut oak grows best in moist, poorly drained, bottomland soils where inundation occurs for a short duration. It is a common resident of mesic hardwoods or mixed pine and hardwood stands in bottomland forests, bluffs, ridges, and flatwoods with subsurface limestone.
Size/Form: Swamp chestnut oak is a large, deciduous tree that averages 60' to 80' in height with a 2' to 3' diameter. In rare cases it may grow as tall as 120' with a 7' diameter. In open areas, the crown is low and widely spreading, but the tree has a more compact form when grown within a forest.
Bark: The thick, light gray bark is irregularly furrowed with long, narrow scales and shaggy rectangular plates.
Leaves: The leaves are simple, alternately arranged, 4" to 9" long, and 2 ½" to 5" wide. They are obovate, broadest in the middle and above. The leaf base tapers to the petiole and the leaf tip is rounded. The upper leaf surface is lustrous, dark green and smooth while the underside is duller and fuzzy. Leaf margins are coarsely wavy-toothed. Leaves turn crimson in the fall.
Fruit: The ovoid acorns are 1" to 1 ½" long and light to dull brown in color. The bowl-like cap covers 1/3 to ½ of the acorn and has distinct, wedge-shaped, triangular scales. Acorns mature in one season and may grow singularly or in clusters of two or three.

 

Images

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Bark with the typical flat, gray patches. Leaves showing upper and lower surfaces. Acorn and leaves. Foliage starting to turn color in the fall.
Photo credit: David Stephens, Bugwood.org Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida Photo credit: Franklin Bonner, USFS (ret.), Bugwood.org Photo credit: Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.org

 

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