A deciduous tree usually not more than 70 ft high in the wild, but occasionally taller specimens are met with; on mountain slopes and rocky places a small scrubby tree; bark very dark, thick, with broad, close ridges; young shoots glabrous. Leaves obovate to oblong-obovate, 3 to 7 in. long, 11⁄2 to 31⁄2 in. wide, tapered at the base, more abruptly so to the apex; from each side the midrib there spring ten to fifteen prominent parallel veins, each of which, except one or two at the base, runs out to the apex of an oblique, rounded tooth. The upper surface is dark, glossy green and glabrous, midrib bright yellow, lower surface green or greyish, coated with fine, appressed stellate down or almost glabrous; stalk yellow, 1⁄2 to 1 in. long, glabrous. Fruits solitary or in pairs, sessile or on a short stout common-stalk; acorns oval, 11⁄4 in. long; cup enclosing one-third to one-half of the acorn, about 3⁄4 in. wide, its scales downy, swollen, fused together except at the tips.
Native of the eastern USA, mainly in the Appalachians and their foothills, where it attains its largest size, but extending north to parts of New England and west to Ohio, Indiana, and N.E. Mississippi; introduced 1800 (perhaps earlier) but never a common tree. It bears a certain resemblance to Q. canariensis, but that species has very distinctive loose floccose hairs on the midrib beneath.
Q. michauxii Nutt. Q. prinus var. palustris Michx.; Q. prinus of many authors (and of Linnaeus in part) Swamp Chestnut Oak. – A close ally of Q. prinus, the most reliable difference being that the scales of the acorn-cup are free to the base, with the upper ones often forming an erect fringe round its rim; the cup is also larger, to 11⁄4 in. wide, and the fruits are almost sessile. The leaves are rather more deeply and sharply toothed. The bark is thinner, less furrowed, with looser ridges. Native mainly of the Atlantic coastal plain and the Mississippi basin, in moist soils and growing taller than Q. prinus, which is a species of drier, upland habitats.
Q. michauxii is rare in cultivation, though introduced in the 17th century. It is mentioned because the present edition of Rehder’s Manual (1940) and of many other older works use the name Q. prinus for this species, and Q. montana for the species which, at the present time, is usually considered to be the one better entitled to be called Q. prinus. The use of the name Q. prinus is discussed by Fernald in Journ. Arn. Arb., Vol. 27 (1946), p. 391.
Q. muehlenbergii Engelm. Q. acuminata (Michx.) Sarg., not Roxb.; Q. prinus var. acuminata Roxb. – This is another close ally of Q. prinus. The leaves are usually narrower than in that species or Q. michauxii, the teeth are sharper, often incurved, and are tipped by a glandular mucro. The scales of the cup are concrescent as in Q. prinus.