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Shrub or small tree to 4.5 m. Branchlets rigid, reddish brown and pubescent. Leaves evergreen, 2–3(–5) × 2–4 cm, elliptic to ovate or orbicular, leathery and brittle, upper surface dark greyish green with fascicled erect and twisting hairs, lower surface glaucous and waxy, but covered with golden-brown glandular hairs, 5–8(–12) secondary veins on each side of the midrib, each terminating in a spine, margins crisped and rarely entire (but more frequently so when mature), apex broadly rounded to subacute; petiole 0.2–0.5 cm long, glabrous or pubescent. Infructescence with one to two cupules. Cupule turbinate or saucer-shaped, 1–3.5 × 0.7–1 cm; scales appressed and embedded, often tuberculate and densely golden-tomentose. Acorn oblong to fusiform, with one-third to half of its length enclosed in the cupule, 2–3 cm long, with a button-like stylopodium. Flowering June, fruiting September (USA). Nixon 1997. Distribution MEXICO: Baja California; USA: Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah. Habitat Dry thickets, chaparral and mountain canyons between 700 and 1800 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 8. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Nixon 1997.
A member of section Protobalanus, Quercus palmeri is an evergreen shrub or occasionally a small tree. Nixon (2002) says that its leaves are ‘among the spiniest of any oak species’ and that it forms virtually impenetrable thickets. Apparently slow-growing in the wild, it seems to be capable of rapid growth in more favourable garden conditions, adding 1 m or more in a year (Melendrez 2000). It is not common in cultivation, but there is a good specimen at Thenford House. Planted in 1998, this is now 2.4 m tall, increasing by about 30 cm per annum, with a somewhat lax and sparse appearance (M. Heseltine, pers. comm. 2006).