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Post Oak (Quercus stellata Wangenh.)

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Post Oak
Photo © Elaine Wolshock, CC BY 4.0.


A resilient, slow-growing, small oak usually found on drier sites with poor soil.

Range - Expand

Native or Not Present

This map is based on our research. We have checked its accuracy to Level 3 ecoregions. Although this plant occurs somewhere in each of these regions, it may only occur in a small part of some or all of them.

Description & Identification

A tree, usually reaching a maximum of 50 to 60ft, rarely to 100ft, and usually only 30-40ft in the drier portions of its range. Broad, dense crown contains numerous horizontal branches. Often looks gnarled or shrubby.

Leaves are variable in shape, but often have a distinctive cross shape, with 5-7 rounded lobes, the center lobes usually largest and rectangular in shape. Leaf texture is leathery; leaves are shiny, dark green, and rough-textured, paler and with grayish or yellowish hairs underneath.

Young twigs initially have yellowish hairs, which darken with age and are often absent by autumn.

Similar Plants

thumbnail of White Oak
White Oak (Quercus alba)
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Found on dry, nutrient-poor sites that are barely rich enough to support tree cover.

At the western border of its range, often a dominant tree in savannahs and open forests adjacent to grasslands. Common in the transition between prairies and forests in Oklahoma and Texas. Farther east, restricted to dry uplands with excessively well-drained soils, such as pine barrens. Also occurs on serpentine soils where heavy metals stress other plants and create more open conditions.

Typically found on sites where a heavy clay or gravel layer is overlain by shallow sand; usually absent from deep sands. Tends to occur on sites too dry for Quercus alba and Quercus falcata, but moister than Quercus marilandica and Juniperus virginiana, although it can co-occur with all these species. Although we found several sites saying it can occur on higher pH soils, it is usually found on acidic soils.

Its western range is limited by low rainfall, where it suffers from its inability to survive flooding: as one proceedes farther west, suitable total moisture levels occur only in bottomlands. At the northwest limit of its range it is replaced by bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) in savannas and other dry habitats, whereas in the southwest of its range it is similarly replaced by chinquapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii). Both these species better tolerate both flooding and alkaline soil. Its northeastern range is likely limited by the cool, humid conditions in New England that make even the driest soils too moist for it.

Intolerant of shade and either not present on, or only present in early successional stages of habitats with richer vegetation. Although shade-intolerant, it is considered an edaphic climax species on drier sites, as it tends to form a stable community on sites where fire and/or drought kill competing vegetation. Fire suppression can cause it to move into prairies in the west of its range, and habitats formerly dominated by longleaf pine in the coastal plain in the east of its range.

Usually absent from habitats that never experience fire.

Life Cycle

Post oak is slow growing, even among oaks. Seedlings are resistant to drought but not flooding. Seedlings develop thick taproots, but most roots develop above the hard clay horizons that usually underlie the soils where this species is found.

Seed production typically begins around 25 years of age, and good seed crops occur at 2-3 year intervals. Seed production is low relative to other oaks found in dry habitats, such as white, blackjack, black, or scarlet oaks.

Acorns germinate shortly after falling, and germination is best when covered in 1 inch or more of leaf litter.

Top-killed trees resprout vigorously, and resprouts tend to grow faster than seedlings. This species produces fewer sprouts per stump than most other oaks.

Trees sometimes reproduce vegetatively, sending up new shoots from more distant sites on roots. Such vegetative reproduction can occur in response to moisture stress, and can sometimes lead to clonal colonies of up to six trunks.

Individual trees may live 300-400 years.

Faunal Associations

Post oak supports a wide variety of insects, mostly the same complex that eat other oaks, especially those of the white oak group.


Sometimes used as a landscaping plant, where it is valued for its extreme drought tolerance, small maximum size among oaks, and its longevity.

Suitable for drier sites in urban environments, and use as a street tree, where it both thrives and requires less pruning due to it slow growth and small size.


The fungus that cuases chestnut blight, Cryphonectria parasitica, can also affect post oak, although it is less likely to kill the tree.

Post Oak | The Wood Database (About This Site)

Post Oak | Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) (About This Site)

Quercus stellata (Post Oak) | Illinois Wildflowers (About This Site)

Quercus stellata (Post Oak) | USDA PLANTS Database (About This Site)

Quercus stellata | Go Botany (About This Site)

Post Oak | iNaturalist (About This Site)

Quercus stellata (Post Oak) | Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder (About This Site)

Post Oak | Virginia Tech Dendrology Factsheets (About This Site)

Post Oak | Silvics of North America (About This Site)

Quercus stellata | Biota of North America Project (BONAP) (About This Site)

Quercus stellata Wangenh. | Plants of the World Online (POWO) (About This Site)

Quercus stellata | NatureServe Explorer (About This Site)

Quercus stellata | Flora of North America (About This Site)

Post Oak | Maryland Biodiversity Project (About This Site)

Photo gallery

Photo © Daniel Atha, Public Domain.
Photo © Elaine Wolshock, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © botany08, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Elaine Wolshock, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © botany08, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Michael Ellis, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Doug Goldman, CC BY 4.0.