Chinkapin Oak (Chinquapin Oak)

Illustration of chinkapin oak leaf.
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Scientific Name
Quercus muehlenbergii
Fagaceae (oaks)

Chinkapin oak is a medium-sized, tall tree, often with large, low branches and a narrow, irregular crown.

Leaves are alternate, simple, 4–8 inches long, 1–3½ inches wide, broadest near the base or above the middle, ending in a pointed tooth (but no bristles or tiny spines on the edges); distinctively coarsely serrated or wavy (like sawteeth) along entire margin; 8–13 teeth per side. Underside paler than top, with gray hairs and conspicuous veins.

Bark is ashy gray, with shallow grooves and short, flaky ridges.

Twigs are slender, yellowish- to reddish-brown, initially hairy, becoming smooth with age.

Flowers April–May, in catkins.

Fruits September–October, acorns mostly solitary or in pairs, nut brown, shiny, broadest near the base and tapering slightly to the tip, ½–¾ inch long; cup covering about half the nut, bowl-shaped, thin, brown, hairy, the scales small, flattened; the seed sweet, edible, ripening in autumn of the first year.

Other Common Names
Chestnut Oak
Yellow Chestnut Oak

Height: 60 to 100 feet.

Where To Find
image of Chinkapin Oak distribution map


Most common in dry, rocky upland woods, on bluffs, and in borders of glades, on soils derived from limestone or dolomite. Also found in moist bottomlands, floodplain forests, and lower slopes along streams.

Common. This species is also called chestnut oak and yellow chestnut oak, since the leaves are similar to those of chestnuts. The name (also spelled "chinquapin") is derived from the Algonquian word "chinkomen," which itself translates to "chestnut." Algonquians of many tribes lived throughout eastern North America when Europeans arrived. Many English words for American plants, animals, and places (like hickory, woodchuck, and Massachusetts) are essentially Algonquian words.

Most oaks were used medicinally by Native Americans because of the astringent properties of the bark. Chinkapin today is planted as a shade tree and is valuable for its lumber, which has many uses, ranging from fuel to fence posts to cabinetry and furniture.

This tree, like many other oaks in the "white oak group" (oaks that lack bristle-tips, or tiny spines, on the leaf margins), produces sweet acorns that are relished by many kinds of wildlife. These and other nuts, called "hard mast," are crucial winter foods for deer, turkey, grouse, and many more.

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Similar Species

Where to See Species

The James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area is located in Jackson County, south of Highway 50 near Lee's Summit. This wildlife area was established in 1952 after Mrs.
Marshall Junction Conservation Area is off Route CC in southern Saline County. The area is approximately two miles south and three miles west of the I-70/Highway 65 intersection.
Scrivner Road Conservation Area is in Cole County about three miles south of Russellville. Parts of this 919-acre site were donated by Mrs. Alvon Winegar in 1984.
This area was purchased in 2005. Native prairie is the featured habitat of this 340-acre area.
About Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines in Missouri
There are no sharp dividing lines between trees, shrubs, and woody vines, or even between woody and nonwoody plants. “Wood” is a type of tissue made of cellulose and lignin that many plants develop as they mature — whether they are “woody” or not. Trees are woody plants over 13 feet tall with a single trunk. Shrubs are less than 13 feet tall, with multiple stems. Vines require support or else sprawl over the ground.