Sunday, January 10, 2016

Parking Lot Oaks, Continued

Looking at trees in parking lots is a habit of mine. I can’t help but glance over with curiosity at what appears to be an unusual tree. Just when I think I’ve seen all the possible choices, a new one shows up.  A new one that I found in November required some help to identify and, of course, I learned a lot in the process.

The mystery oak that turned out to be Quercus ellipsoidalis
The mystery tree was well established in the back of an older shopping center. It was tall and dropping large amounts of plump, handsome acorns. While the leaves resembled those of other species (red oak, pin oak), the acorns didn’t match any of those possibilities. The acorns were large like a red oak (Quercus rubra) but striped like a pin oak (Quercus palustris), and the acorn caps matched neither. In addition, the branches of the tree didn’t have the characteristic drooping of pin oak.

I gathered up some acorns and leaves and took pictures of the tree. When I got home, I pulled out my favorite Eastern oak identification guide and my hand lens. To my puzzlement, the tree seemed to be northern pin oak (Quercus ellipsoidalis).

Recognizing that I could use some help, I emailed a friend who then brought in another knowledgeable friend. He confirmed that it was northern pin oak, and that designers sometimes spec by common name (e.g., “pin oak”) which leads to a mixture of species being planted. Species that might be grown and delivered as “pin oak” include Quercus palustris, Q. shumardii, Q. texana, and Q. ellipsoidalis.

In the course of this long discussion about identification points via email, I asked for verification of a parking lot tree that I had identified as Q. texana and gave him a link to my blog post. It turns out that I was mistaken, that plant was Q. shumardii (and I have since corrected that post). He gave me a location in Cobb County to find some Q. texana and I went over to check it out. Included here are pictures of those trees.

Quercus texana

Quercus texana

Quercus texana (different tree than above to show variance)

So concludes another chapter in the story of parking lot oaks. Just when I think that I can't possibly find anything new, another one shows up. This makes two new ones this year.

I certainly enjoy the challenge that landscapers and nurserymen like to throw our way, and I’m grateful to friends that help me get to the truth.


  1. Those two oaks have gorgeous leaves and intriguing acorns. Thanks for sharing your sleuthing.

  2. Great post, Ellen! I've had some similar difficulties with IDs in a neighborhood near me. Since nearly every tree was planted there after the houses were built about 30 years ago, it may be essentially the same situation you had with yours. Interesting!

  3. Nice! I'm going to start to look for oak trees in parking lots. Thanks for sharing.