" Top 20" Shade Trees for the San Antonio Area"

Custom Plant Information By Wilson Landscape Nursery & Florist, Helotes, Texas

​#1 Monterrey Oak (Quercus polymorpha)

Also Called: Mexican White Oak; Mexican Live Oak

You have come to a great tree in your search! We at Wilson's hope that you find this plant information to be helpful and interesting. Let us know if we can help you further as you search for that perfect tree. Our information is based upon decades of loving trees, learning about trees, growing trees, maintaining trees, talking about trees, selling trees, planting trees, watching trees grow, enjoying the beauty of trees and being grateful to God for creating trees!

"The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground--trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food." "And God saw that it was good." (Genesis 2:9; 1:12)

Strengths And Weaknesses Listed

All trees have strengths and weaknesses. In order to thoroughly evaluate a tree, you should consider both. Let me begin by offering some strengths of Monterrey Oaks and then I will describe some weaknesses. You will be happy to discover that this trees strengths overcome its weaknesses. In fact, from our viewpoint, Monterrey Oak is at the top of the list coming in at #1!

Monterrey Oak #1

The Monterrey Oak tops our list at #1 for the best shade tree to plant for the San Antonio area. This is a great tree that offers large leaves, an attractive form and thrives in our area climate. Although our native Live Oak trees will always be king of the San Antonio area forest, the Monterrey Oak, in our opinion,  is the top tree to be planted, now, to provide  diversity and beauty to an area already rich with Live Oaks.

The Story of Monterrey Oaks 

The Monterrey Oak is abundant in the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains of Mexico,  a southern continuation of our West Texas Mountains. We can thank  nurseryman and  plant pioneer, Lynn Lowrey (1917-1997)  for introducing the Monterrey Oak to Texas landscapes.  Lowrey  and friends  loved to  explore remote, mountainous areas of Mexico  in order to discover new plants and trees that  would  grow well in  Texas.   The name "Monterrey" became the common name for these trees since it was from acorns gathered south of Monterrey, Mexico, that the first plantings were done here in the San Antonio  and Houston areas,  beginning in the 1970's. By the early 1980's, Lowrey  was working  with Lone Star Growers,   ( now called Colorspot Nurseries),  a large wholesale grower,  helping to make the Monterrey Oak and other Mexican plants, recommended  by Lowrey,  more available to the public.  Still,   according to Jill Nokes, respected plant propagator, educator and author, Monterrey Oaks were  not thought to be truly native to Texas until they were accidentally  discovered growing wild  in the early 1990's. To this day, only one native stand of these trees is known to exist,  growing along the Devil's river near Dolan Falls in Val Verde County. And so the Monterrey Oak is native to Texas after all!

Monterrey Oak Now Very Popular

A lot has changed since then.  The Monterrey Oak  is now one of the most frequently planted trees in the San Antonio area, and for good reason.   ​ I remember as a child growing up in the 60's the Arizona Ash trees that lined our neighborhood streets. Those trees were planted everywhere and provided quick beauty and shade even arching over neighborhood streets creating, in places,  a forest of  tunneled roadways.  Now, almost 60 years later, most of those trees are gone,  and a neighborhood once forested, tries to recover its suburban tree cover  with newer plantings,  far from  the abundant coverage of the neighborhood forest I once knew. Most of us have become wiser these days. We want trees that grow fast but live long. Which brings us back to the Monterrey Oak.   Now,  if you visit  old neighborhoods again in 60 years, you may notice that the tree cover is better than ever, thanks to the Monterrey Oak.


 All trees and plants have strengths and weaknesses. See below for  weaknesses. First, here  are some important strengths that overcome weaknesses.

Strength: Long Lived

The Monterrey Oak will not outlive its  native cousin, the Live Oak,  but all indications are that it will achieve 100 years or more. The oldest trees in the San Antonio area are not yet 50 years old and are looking good. 

Strength: Larger Leaves Than Live Oaks

Monterrey Oaks provide  larger, lusher leaves than  Live Oaks. Live Oaks offer larger limbs--Monterrey Oaks offer larger leaves. Five-inch long leaves are common. Both trees are related, from the White Oak family, so much so that another common name for Quercus polymorpha  is  "Mexican Live Oak" and also "Mexican White Oak."  Like the Live Oak, the Monterrey Oak loses its leaves in late winter and early spring, and then immediately puts on new leaves.   The Monterrey  shows off "peachy" colored new leaves in spring that gradually become darker green throughout summer.

Variations in Monterrey Oaks

The botancial name, "polymorpha", translated  "different forms",  indicates that Monterrey Oaks display some variation in the size and shape of their leaves, from tree to tree. Monterrey Oaks and Chinkapin Oaks have some similarities. Thousands of Monterrey Oaks have been grown at Wilson Landscape Nursery and Florist along with Chinkapin Oaks.  Some  Monterrey Oaks  can be mistaken for Chinkapin Oaks, to the untrained eye, especially when young. Chinkapin Oaks are distinguished by their serrated or tooth-like leaf edges. Some Monterrey Oaks also have tooth like edges.  Most  Monterreys, however, will display  smooth leaf edges; whereas, a Chinkapin Oak will never have smooth leaf edges.  Monterrey leaf veins are not as visible as on a Chinkapin leaf and there are not as many teeth on the serrated edges, nor are the teeth as pronounced (jagged,course) as on a Chinkapin Oak.    Monterrery leaves are also  more consistently oblong; Chinkapin leaves can be more oblong to obovate (oblong with a more rounded center).  However, there are some beautiful Monterreys that also show off a more rounded oval shape. Other Monterrey Oak trees have noticeably more narrow leaves.  And so "polymorpha" fits.   As the growing season progresses, Monterrey Oak leaves develop a more leathery, thicker texture which is good for enduring a long San Antonio summer. The Chinkapin leaf is thinner and more translucent.

Strength: Attractive Growth Habit

 The Monterrey Oak has an attractive form. When the lower limbs are left untrimmed , it shows off a pyramidal shape. It is an excellent choice for a tall privacy screen and/or noise barrier.  Monterrey Oak  provides an upright form that compliments the landscape with  a bit of that east Texas look,  where the trees are less scrubby and more erect. Monterrey Oaks blend well with other trees and grow even more upright  as they reach for the light above. They do fine in a crowded backyard growing along with other trees.  If trimmed of lower limbs and given sun space,  its crown becomes more rounded.  A Monterrey Oak does not need to be trimmed much since it keeps itself relatively clean of dead wood and grows into an attractive shape all by itself. 

Strength: Fast Grower

 It grows relatively fast for an Oak tree, perhaps three feet, all the way around, per year, in a year with normal rainfall . 

Strength: Oak Wilt Resistant

Monterrey Oaks are not susceptible to Oak Wilt and so are a good choice for areas where Oak Wilt is an issue. 

Strength: Drought Tolerant

As for drought tolerance, Monterrey Oaks are tuff survivors. In comparison with other commonly planted trees in our area, they are more drought tolerant than Chinkapin Oaks or Mexican Sycamores but less drought tolerant than Live Oaks, Cedar Elms or Lacey Oaks. They are about as  drought tolerant as  Texas Red Oaks or Bur Oaks.


Of course,  all trees and landscape plants have weaknesses. Monterrey Oaks overcome  weaknesses through their strengths,  making them desirable to plant  after honest evaluation. The following are some weaknesses of Monterrey Oaks:

Weakness: Best With Supplemental Irrigation

 Monterrey Oaks  are a more risky choice for planting in areas  that will not receive supplemental irrigation.  Live Oaks and Cedar Elms are a more drought tolerant choice for these situations.  The Monterrey is not as drought tolerant as the Live Oak but is still a tuff survivor in our climate. During the worst drought years, Monterrey Oaks will show stress, a slightly wilted, windblown look,  but generally keep most of their leaves. They may develop more dead twigs in very dry periods and perhaps even lose a limb.  Young trees, not yet established, may even die to the ground but will grow back from the base with multiple new shoots  when conditions improve. They will look acceptable without irrigation, during normal droughts,  but look much better with regular watering as long as there is good drainage. When comparing Monterrey Oaks and Live Oaks on "drought-looks" :  Monterrey Oaks look better in a good year-- Live Oaks look better in a bad year.

Weakness: Powdery Mildew 

Monterrey Oaks  may develop powdery mildew if planted by a pool or body of water,  more of a visual problem than one that hurts the tree.  Monterrey Oaks are also susceptible to other fungal problems common to oak trees, especially Oak leaf blister (Taphrina caerulescens). This fungus will not permanently harm the tree but is a temporary, visual defect, especially for growers who may have difficulty convincing a customer that all is well. 

Weakness: Ugly When Leaves Finally Fall

 Monterrey Oaks look their worst in late winter and early spring when they lose their old leaves and then immediately put new leaves on. 

Weakness: No Pretty Fall Foliage

Monterrey Oaks do not have pretty fall foliage.  As the growing season progresses, Monterrey Oak leaves develop a more leathery, thicker texture which is good for enduring a long San Antonio summer,  but not good for translucency and iridescent fall color.  Since Monterrey Oaks  hold on to their leaves almost year round, some leaves can show  damage and flaws from insects, fungus or wind after a long growing season.  

Weakness: Has Not Passed The Test of Time

Not enough time has passed to truly be able to evaluate how good a Monterrey Oak will look when it is 100 years old, since the oldest  trees in the area are less than 50 years old.

Weakness: Unattractive Trimming

Monterrey Oaks do not look as good when the lower limbs are trimmed up to high. Nor do they look good when cleaned out like a Live Oak Tree, revealing excessive limb structure without sufficient leaf coverage. It should not be "cleaned out" like a Live Oak tree since its limb structure is more attractive covered in leaves, unlike a Live Oak which has beautiful limb structure, though its leaves are not as impressive. 

Weakness: Doesn't Brighten Dark Native Trees

 Monterrey Oaks do not brighten up a dark green area as well as other choices, such as  Mexican Sycamore, whose leaves are brighter green and whose bark is much lighter.   The leaves of Monterrey Oaks are green and the  bark  is dark and so does not provide a contrast to the Live Oaks, Cedar Elms, and Cedar (Ash Juniper) that might be in the same area. However, its upright form does provide a nice contrast. It is tough to leave out the strengths of Monterrey Oaks even when trying to list the weaknesses!

Full Sun to Part Shade
​​Size: 45’ feet tall and 30 feet wide.

Deer Resistance: Few trees are Deer-resistant so when young protect the foliage, but more importantly, protect the bark.  Deer love to scratch their horns on a long straight, young, tree trunk.  Letting the lower limbs grow is an effective method of discouraging serious damage.  When the green leaves are out of reach and the trunk is thicker, the tree will be safer and cages, if used, can be removed.   Drought Tolerance: Very drought tolerant but looks best with regular watering.

Soil: Not particular about soil as long as it drains well and does not remain constantly wet. Does well in rocky soil or even better with soil enhancement.

Water: Smart Watering Principle=Water well by gently flooding a newly planted tree. Create a soil- berm reservoir and fill the reservoir up once per day the first week.  Do the same every second day the second week; every third day, the third week; every fourth day, the fourth week and so on, until you reach the point where you allow the tree to dry slightly, without wilting, before flooding  again, etc. Do not keep constantly wet once established but do water when dry for best results.  

Fertilizer: Looks even better with regular fertilization.

Maintenance Tips: Remember when Monterey Oaks lose their leaves so that you will not think your tree is sick in  late winter/early spring. 

Rating: Rates high as a landscape plant.

Monterrey Oaks For Sale At Wilson's. 

​So if you are interested in browsing or buying a Monterrey Oak Tree in Helotes, please come check out our nursery at 14650 Bandera Road. We grow all of our own trees from the ground up and treat them with the best quality fertilizer so that you get a healthy, beautiful tree each time!

A Blessing For You

We hope that this plant information helps you as you search for that perfect tree. Whichever tree you choose, may it bring you many years of beauty and peace.

May you and your tree be "like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither." (Psalm 1:3)

Buy Monterrey Oak Trees in Helotes at Wilson Landscape Nursery

Other "Top Twenty Trees"

Monterrey Oak

If you are interested in buying or browsing Monterrey Oak Trees in Helotes or San Antonio, Wilson Landscape has an impressive stock of all sizes and shapes of trees. We grow all of our trees from acorns and seeds and only use the best fertilizers. We have beautiful Monterrey Oak Trees to choose from. We specialize in tree growing, and we only grown native and well adapted Texas trees, so you can be sure they will flourish. Best of all, Glenn and Sherry are plant experts and would love to answer any and all questions and concerns  about your specific tree needs. Our knowledge is something that is hard to find.  Come on in or give us a call today! 
(210) 695-2703

Quercus polymorpha