Thoughts from Hill Country Naturalist

An Oak tree.

Hill Country Oak Trees–More than Just Live Oaks 

by Jim Stanley

How many different species of native Hill Country oaks do you think there are? Well,
depending on how far you think the Hill Country extends, I think the answer is seven.

Here they are:
Blackjack oaks (Quercus marilandica) are one of two species (the other being Spanish
oaks) in the Hill Country that belong to the Red Oak family. All the other oaks are
classified as White Oaks, except that live oaks are considered a class by themselves.
Blackjack oaks tend to have darker bark than most other trees in the area and the
leaves are thin, shiny, smooth and tend to have a shape like a duck’s foot. At the tip of
the leaf where the “duck’s toenails” would be you can usually see a very small hair-like
point sticking out.

Chinquapin oaks, also spelled chinkapin, (Quercus muhlenbergii) are large trees usually
found in the deeper soils along creeks and streams. They have oblong leaves 3” to 5”
long with scalloped edges. They can be successfully grown in a moderate amount of
soil even quite removed from any creeks.

Lacey oaks (Quercus laceyi) were first described by an Englishman, Howard Lacey,
who owned a ranch in the Turtle Creek area south of Kerrville in the late 1800s. They
are also called blue oaks as the color of their leaves tends to be somewhat blue-green,
which means they can be picked out from other trees at a distance. They are usually
medium-size trees that often grow in rocky areas along the edge of hilltops, but they
seem to be able to grow almost anywhere.

Live oaks, which make up the majority of all oak trees in the Hill Country, are probably
predominately plateau live oaks (Quercus fusiformis) which are a slight variation to the
Live oak (Quercus virginiana) that grows from the Texas coast east to the Atlantic
Ocean. They are usually referred to as being evergreen, since they keep their green
leaves throughout the winter. But they are not strictly evergreen because they do lose
their leaves beginning in March, and they immediately begin growing new leaves. This
process, called “leaf exchange”, may take until May to complete. Live oaks can be
found growing almost anywhere in the Hill Country except near permanent water.
Post oaks (Quercus stellata) tend to have the lightest-colored bark of all the other trees.
They also tend to have very straight trunks (i.e. like a post). Their leaves are often
described as cross-shaped with large bulges on either side of the leaf near the top. The
leaves also have a somewhat rough feel when rubbed between the fingers and lack the
“points” found on blackjack oaks, with which they are sometimes confused.
Shin oaks (Quercus sinuata) are also known as White shin oaks and Bigelow oaks.
They tend to be the smallest oak species in this area, usually no more than 12-15’ tall.
They have a fairly light-colored bark that looks shaggy as though pieces of the bark are
flaking off. These trees frequently grow close together in groups and it is common for
them to produce many root sprouts near the base of the trees, although if you have
many deer, you may never see them.

Spanish oaks (Quercus buckleyi), also known as Texas red oaks, have deeply lobed
leaves (deep indentations between fingers with points) and tend to give the most fall
color of all the oaks in the Hill Country. They also green up early in the spring with very
light-colored leaves which contrast nicely with the deep green of the cedars. Spanish
oak bark frequently, but not always, has whiteish patches of lichen on it. Spanish oaks
are very closely related to Shumard oaks which are found east and north of the Hill
Country, but the latter do not do as well here as the native Spanish oaks.

Some might include Bur oaks in the above list, but they are most common further east
and north of us. They have the largest leaves with large lobes and very large acorns.
Monterrey oaks are not native to the Hill country but are widely cultivated here.
Unfortunately, these trees, that are native south of here, did not survive the freeze last
year very well.

Until next time…

File of blog can be downloaded here:

Hill Country Oaks