Overcup Oak TreeQuercus lyrata
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Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Overcup Oak is a striking native white oak, growing to 30 or 40 feet tall and wide, with the potential to double that in time. It is exceptionally long-lived, reaching 400 years and still alive. Since it is not particularly fast-growing, but very long-lived, it is ideal for commemorative plantings, for woodland improvement, or for anyone who likes the rare and unusual. The deep-green leathery leaves are lobed, but with a broad tip, and they turn rich brown in fall. The bark is rough, with reddish tones combined with gray-brown. The acorns are unusual because the seed is mostly hidden by the large, rough cup, which allows the seed to float. These are a valuable food for mammals, turkeys and other ground birds, and for deer and hogs. Ideal for wet sites, areas that flood, and for ordinary garden conditions, as well as dry locations.
The Overcup Oak will grow in full sun, and also in partial shade, allowing it to be planted among existing trees. It grows in almost any soil, and is especially valuable for areas of wet clay, and places subject to periodic flooding. It is also extremely drought tolerant once established. Untroubled by pests or diseases, some formative pruning to maintain a single leading stem is advised, and the early removal of lower branches if you want a clear trunk.
America is blessed with a large number of different oaks, from the well-known red oak to others recognized only by naturalists. When planting a garden, a healthy mixture of garden plants and wild native species is the perfect way to go if you have environmental concerns, or just want a beautiful and interesting garden. On a larger property there is plenty of room for trees, and planting long-lived trees that will be of value to future generations is an act of faith that was once common. Today, in a world of instant gratification, ‘fast-growing’ is often the key word for trees, and planting for the future is hardly considered. But those fast-growing trees don’t live for 400 years – imagine that, a tree you plant today could still be here, gazing onto a very different world, in 2422. I say all this because I won’t tell you that the Overcup Oak is fast-growing, because it isn’t. It could take 30 years for it to have a significant presence, even though all you have to do is plant it and wait. I will tell you that it could easily live for 400 years, though. Perhaps you want to commemorate a wedding or a birth. What better way to do that than by planting a tree? Not any tree, but an Overcup Oak, a native tree that will live long into the future, and be a legacy for generations to come.
The Overcup Oak is an attractive deciduous tree with dark green, leathery leaves that turn rich browns in fall, It has a handsome rough trunk of red, gray and brown, and the acorns it produces are valuable for all wildlife, and help the local ecology. It is relatively slow-growing, taking 25 to 30 years to reach a mature state. Wild trees can reach 100 feet tall in time, but in gardens 30 to 40 feet tall and wide is more likely. Long-lived, trees have been recorded at 400 years old, and still growing. It has a rounded crown and a clear central trunk, with rough-textured bark that is attractive, with reddish tones and gray-brown coloring, making a good feature year-round. The limbs grow more upwards than horizontal, so it doesn’t produce the drooping branches that can cause clearance issues with some oaks.
The leathery leaves are deep green, 6 to 8 inches long, with deep lobes along the side and a broader tip area, giving a shape like a lyre – hence the botanical name. In fall they turn rich browns and hang on the trees into early winter. Older trees produce distinctive acorns, with a rough cup that covers most of the smooth seed part of the acorn. This extra covering makes them float, a unique distribution method for this species. These are a valuable and important food for small mammals, squirrels, possums, and wild turkeys. Deer also eat them, and the tree is an important habitat for a variety of moths and butterflies.
Too slow for a lawn shade tree, this is a perfect commemorative tree to plant for special occasions, like a birth, a marriage or a coming of age. If you have an interest in conservation and ecology, then planting an important native tree like this one is a great thing to do. Plant on a large lawn, on the margins of a woodland, or in clearings in existing woods, to enrich the environment. Use it for woodland restoration, along with other native trees and shrubs.
The Overcup Oak grows in all warm to hot zones, from zone 6 to zone 9. It tolerates heat and humidity well.
The Overcup Oak is a tree that will thrive in full sun, but also in partial shade, allowing it to grow up through existing trees and large shrubs. It grows in most soils, from sand to clay, and in acidic, neutral and slightly alkaline soils too. It enjoys well-drained soil, but also tolerates wet conditions and areas that are periodically flooded. As well, it is extremely drought and heat tolerant, so it will grow well in ordinary to dry conditions too, even in hot, demanding regions. It also grows well in poor urban soils, where there is sufficient room for it to mature, and can be a valuable part of the urban forest.
Pests and diseases are normally not problems for the Overcup Oak, and its root system is not invasive or destructive. Deer will eat the acorns, but not the tree. It needs little attention once established, but we suggest some formative pruning during its early life. Remove or shorten side-branches as needed to keep a single central leading stem for as long as possible. This makes a sturdier tree less likely to be damaged by storms. If you want a tall trunk, remove lower branches while they are thin, so that the trunk is smooth and free of scars.
Overcup Oak, Quercus lyrata, is a tree native to most of central and eastern America, from New Jersey to Texas and north to Illinois. It grows mostly on wet clays, in swamps, wetlands and floodplains. It can survive for up to 2 seasons partially submerged by flood waters. It was ‘discovered’ and named by the British-American botanist Thomas Walter, who wrote a flora of Carolina in 1788. It was the first book on American plants to use the relatively new binomial system of Linnaeus still in use today.
The Overcup Oak is only produced by a small number of growers, so it is rarely offered for sale. Take advantage of our efforts to find some excellent young trees, and plant something really special. We have limited stock, and given its rarity we don’t expect them to be on our farm for long – order now.