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Quercus gambellii

Gambell Oak, Rocky Mountain White Oak
Deciduous, Shrubs, Trees


The archetypal oak grows large and spreads wide, with muscular, near-horizontal lower branches that seem to defy gravity. But the group’s 500 species, all native to the Northern Hemisphere, also include upright, pyramidal, and shrubby oaks; in fact, “chaparral” comes from chaparra—Spanish for a dwarf evergreen shrub oak. Oak leaves can be deciduous or evergreen (the latter are called live oaks); lobed, toothed, or smooth edged; but they’re always arranged in an alternate pattern along stems. Some have terrific fall color. All oaks produce inconspicuous flowers followed by acorns, whose single nuts have cuplike caps covered with closely set scales. Some kinds of acorns are edible and sweet, while others are bitter and unpalatable.

Oaks come in two broad categories: white oaks have acorns that mature during the season in which they are produced, and often have leaves with rounded lobes; red and black oaks have acorns that take two seasons to mature, and often have leaves with pointed lobes. Each group can hybridize only within itself. 

Quercus gambellii

This deciduous tree or shrub is native to Nevada, Arizona, and east to Colorado and New Mexico. Slow growth to 15–30 ft. (rarely 50 ft.) tall and half as wide. Often forms colonies from its root system. Thick, ridged trunk bark is light gray to whitish. Leaves are 3–7 in. long, half as wide, with seven to nine deep lobes; dark green above, pale and densely hairy below. Foliage turns yellow, orange, or red in fall. Woolly, egg-shaped or globular, sharp-tipped acorns nearly 1 in. long, half-covered by a knobby cap. Characteristic oak of Arizona’s Oak Creek Canyon and foothills south of Denver. Adaptable to a wide range of soils and moisture levels; grows rapidly into a substantial tree in deep, rich soil.

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