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Monterrey Oak (Quercus polymorpha)
"2017 Top Ten Shade Trees for the San Antonio Area"
Custom Plant Information By Wilson Landscape Nursery and Florist
The Monterrey Oak tops our list at #1 for the best shade tree to plant in 2017 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 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 propogater, 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.
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, on the southeast side of San Antonio, 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.
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.
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.
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. 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, since some Monterreys display serrated or tooth-like edges like a Chinkapin oak. 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. 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 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.
It grows relatively fast for an Oak tree, perhaps three feet, all the way around, per year, in a year with normal rainfall .
Monterrey Oaks are not susceptible to Oak Wilt and so are a good choice for areas where Oak Wilt is an issue.
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:
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.
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. At least one case of Hypoxylon Canker, a more serious problem, has been observed in the San Antonio area during the terrible recent drought years. Fortunately, this damaged tree is now making a full recovery since an improvement in rainfall over the last few years. The damaged trunk is nearly healed over and the crown is re-balancing itself. It does not appear that Hypoxylon Canker will be a major problem at this time and does not spread from tree to tree like Oak wilt.
Monterrey Oaks look their worst in late winter and early spring when they lose their old leaves and then immediately put new leaves on.
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.
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.
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.
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 gently 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.
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