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Shrub or tree to 15 m, 0.6 m dbh. Bark dark grey, rather smooth but with dark ridges on lower trunk. Crown rounded. Branchlets greyish or reddish brown and glabrous or sparsely pubescent. Leaves deciduous, 7–14 × (6–)10–15(–18) cm, oblate to broadly elliptic (in outline), upper surface glabrous, lower surface glabrous or with prominent tufts of hair in the vein axils, three to six secondary veins on each side of the midrib, raised on both surfaces, margins with five to seven (to nine) ovate to oblong lobes, the lobes typically expanding distally and terminating in bristles (11–48 per leaf), apex acute; petiole 2–4.5 cm long and glabrous. Cupule saucer- or cup-shaped, 1–2 × 0.4–0.7 cm, outer surface glabrous, inner surface pale reddish brown and glabrous or with a ring of pubescence around the scar; scales obtuse or acute, tightly appressed and with pale margins. Acorn ovoid to oblong, with one-quarter to one-third enclosed in the cupule, 1.5–2 cm long, pubescent or glabrous. Flowering spring, fruiting November (USA). Nixon 1997, Hess & Stoynoff 1998. Distribution USA: Arkansas (Magazine Mt., Porter Mt., Pryor Mt., Sugar loaf Mt.). Habitat Dry glades, slopes and ridge tops between 500 and 800 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 5. Conservation status Endangered, due to habitat loss and poor regeneration. Illustration NT700.
Closely related to Quercus shumardii, this species is little known in Europe but in the United States is regarded as being a useful medium-sized tree (Sternberg 2004), with good red autumn colour. The finest specimen in cultivation is generally accepted to be one at the Morton Arboretum, planted in 1950, which has formed a nicely rounded crown from heavy basal limbs. It is approximately 10 m tall, 39 cm dbh. A specimen at the Arnold Arboretum is of similar height but badly shaded (E. Hsu, pers. comm. 2006). Quercus acerifolia should thrive wherever other red oaks prosper. In the United Kingdom there are trees at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens (planted in 1989), 5.1 m tall, 12 cm dbh in December 2006, and at Chevithorne Barton. The name is derived from the resemblance of the foliage, with its enlarged central pair of lobes and shortened apical portion, to the leaves of the Sugar Maple Acer saccharum.