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Shrub or small multistemmed tree, 2–8 m. Bark ridged. Branchlets yellowish green and densely tomentose; the tomentum stellate, turning black with time. Leaves deciduous or semi-evergreen, (2.5–)4–7.5(–8.5) × (1.3–) 2–3.5(–4.5) cm, oblong to elliptic or obovate, immature leaves reddish with short stellate tomentum; in mature leaves, upper surface with short stellate tomentum along the midrib and lateral veins, lower surface with dense stellate tomentum, six to nine secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins revolute with two to five mucronate lobes or teeth on each side of the midrib, apex acute or obtuse, mucronate; petiole 0.2–0.6 cm long and pubescent. Infructescence 3 cm long with one to three cupules. Cupule hemispheric, 1.4–2 × 0.6–1 cm; scales obtuse and covered in white pubescence. Acorn ovoid, with about one-third of its length enclosed in the cupule, 1.1–1.9 cm long, stylopodium persistent. Flowering April, fruiting July to December (Mexico). Gonzalez & Labat 1987, Romero Rangel et al. 2002. Distribution MEXICO: Distrito Federal, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Jalisco, México, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Puebla, Querétaro, Sinaloa. Habitat Oak forests and dry woody scrub between 1600 and 2800 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 8–9. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Gonzalez & Labat 1987, Romero Rangel et al. 2002.
The rather small, grey leaves of Quercus deserticola immediately suggest that this is a xerophytic plant from dry habitats, just as its name implies. The only one seen in cultivation in the research for New Trees is at Chevithorne Barton, now about 7 m tall (2008), grown from a collection made by Allen Coombes at 2010 m in Hidalgo in 1995. It could be said to be struggling, but when seen in 2005 it had produced 80 cm of new growth that year; so perhaps it takes time to get going. The foliage is especially attractive when young, the dense tomentum overlying the bronze flush of the new leaves to give a very curious colour effect.