Plant of the Month: Turbinella Oak

Turbinella Oak (Quercus turbinella) or scrub live oak, is a New Mexico Native evergreen tree. Its wild form is a short sprawling shrub or small tree reaching 12’ – 15’ tall. Wild form is also multi-trunked.

You would never guess it was an Oak species by looking at its leaves. Turbinella Oak has thick grayish-green leaves that lack the lobes of most oaks. Their leaves are more similar to a holly with its pointed leaf margins. Its dense branch and leaf structure provides shelter for wildlife. This naturally dense canopy makes it useful in the landscape as a visual and wind barrier for those allergic to more conventional screening plants like the Junipers. Like Junipers, Turbinella Oak can be pruned to shape or conform to landscaping requirements.

It is common at lower elevations, where the mountain meets the mesa, of the central mountain chain southward and throughout the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. It is found growing in association with junipers, prickly pear, tree cholla, pinyon pine, Mahonia, and a larger evergreen oak, Quercus grisea, or Gray Oak.

Turbinella Oak is a member of the white oak family. It will hybridize with other white oak species that overlap it’s wild range such as the Gray Oak (Quercus grisea), Arizona White Oak (Quercus arizonica), Sandpaper Oak (Quercus pungens), and Gambel Oak (Quercus gambelli).

Turbinella Oak produces acorns that ripen during July and August.  Acorns fall to the ground coinciding with the arrival of the summer monsoons.

Turbinella Oak is a useful tree for New Mexico Landscapes. It is low water, heat and drought tolerant, deep rooted, and if pruned to a single trunk can reach 20′ or more. Normally slow growing on the west facing foothills of the Central Mountain chain of New Mexico, Turbinella Oak can grow 2’ – 4’ annually with regular watering. Turbinella Oak is best grown in well-drained soils and is hardy to USDA  zone 5.

To view Turbinella Oak in its native habitat and to see how it might be used in the landscape as a visual barrier, copy the following link to your web browser: