What is Canyon Live Oak?

Mary McMahon

Canyon live oak is a species of oak tree found primarily in Oregon and California, with scattered populations in neighboring states. As the name suggests, canyon live oaks are often found in canyons, although they will grow on other types of terrain. They are extremely hardy trees and can be found in a wide range of environments in addition to being grown as ornamental and landscaping trees in some parts of the Pacific Northwest.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Known formally as Quercus chrysolepis, the canyon live oak has a number of common names including maul oak, live oak, and goldcup oak. These evergreen oaks can reach heights of around 100 feet (30 meters) and have a spreading, branching growth habit. The evergreen foliage is simple, with small spines along the margins of the leaves, and the bark is gray and smooth to flaky, depending on the conditions where the trees grow. Canyon live oaks can live for hundreds of years in a sheltered environment.

These trees are famous for producing very close-grained, hard, sturdy wood. Historically, they were used to make tools like axes and mauls, explaining one of the common names. Today, the wood is used in construction and in the crafting of furniture. It is also burned and makes an excellent stove wood once cured because of the density; oak logs will burn slowly and over an extended period, allowing people to keep fires going overnight without tending.

The canyon live oak can live in both hot and relatively cold weather, and tolerates a range of soil conditions. Harsh soils with limited nutrition are perfectly acceptable for these members of the oak genus. The trees are also comfortable with minimal water, as well as copious rainfall, reflecting the climate diversity in their broad range. The same trees grow in the hot, dry conditions of Southern California, as well as the wet, cool climate of Southern Oregon.

In landscaping, the canyon live oak can be used as a specimen planting and is popular in gardens focusing on native species. Other natives can make suitable companion plantings. People can seed acorns directly into the ground, selecting acorns with an even color and no signs of damage, or they can purchase seedlings and transplant them. Oaks benefit from populations of fungi in the soil and it can be helpful to introduce mycorrhizal fungi to the soil at the time of planting to give the canyon live oak seedlings a good start in life.

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