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Tree to 30 m, occasionally to 45 m, to 2.1 m dbh, though in drier areas forming a shrub to 3 m. Bark thin, fissured and flaking, pale grey to creamy white. Branches spreading. Branchlets pale brown, minutely pubescent; becoming grey and glabrous in the second year. Leaves deciduous, 2–4 × (1–)1.5–2.5 cm, ovate to obovate, leathery, upper surface dark green and glabrous, lower surface glaucous and covered with minute six- to ten-rayed stellate hairs, (9–)10–14(–16) secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins regularly undulate and dentate (or with shallow lobes), teeth/lobes rounded to acuminate and pointing towards the apex, apex acute to acuminate or apiculate; petiole 1–3 cm long. Infructescence 1–1.5 cm long with one to three cupules. Cupule shallow, hemispheric, 0.8–2.2 × 0.4–1.2 cm; scales tuberculate, closely appressed, with short, grey pubescence. Acorn oblong to ovoid, with one-quarter to half of its length enclosed in the cupule, 1.5–3 cm long, stylopodium prominent. Flowering April to May, fruiting September to October (USA). Nixon 1997. Distribution CANADA: Ontario; MEXICO: Coahuila, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, Veracruz; USA: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin. Habitat Mixed deciduous forest, woodland, thicket between 0 and 2300 m asl. In western part of range, often restricted to north-facing slopes and river valleys. Generally prefers limestone or other calcareous soils. USDA Hardiness Zone 4. Conservation status Least Concern. Illustration Nixon 1997, Sternberg 2004; NT740. Cross-references B505, S415, K98. Taxonomic note This species is closely related to the Dwarf Chinkapin Oak Q. prinoides, and is regarded by some as the arborescent phase of that species (Clark 1994). The spelling muehlenbergii is correct, despite Clark’s arguments for muhlenbergii: the taxonomic code requires ‘ü’ to be written ‘ue’ in a scientific name.
Despite being described by Melendrez (2000) as ‘one of America’s most regal oaks’, and possessing the widest range of any temperate oak in North America, Quercus muehlenbergii is poorly known in Europe and was barely afforded a comparative note by Bean (1976b) – although it was first introduced to England in 1737 (Forest 2004). A tree in Kensington Gardens was 20 m tall in 1981 (Mitchell 1983), but the current UK champion is a ‘supine’ 10 m specimen at Syon House, Middlesex (Johnson 2003). There are small, young trees across the river at Kew, and others at the Hillier Gardens are doing well, but as a white oak it presumably prefers warmer summers than southern England can provide. It seems to thrive in central Europe, some individuals at Ettelbruck reaching up to 2.4 m in five years. Its qualities for the eastern United States are very amply treated by Sternberg (2004) and Clark (1994), but its wide range enables appropriate selections to be made for different environments. Melendrez (2000) particularly recommends seed from desert provenances for plantings in the drier southwestern states. It is also noted for its tolerance of alkaline soils (Clark 1994, Sternberg 2004). Fine specimens can be seen in most of the arboreta and collections of the eastern United States, including a particularly lovely grove at Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania.