Canyon Live Oak (Chrysolepis)

The Canyon Live Oak (Chrysolepis) is generally described as a perennial tree or shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer and fall . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the late spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Canyon Live Oak (Chrysolepis) has a long life span relative to most other plant species and a slow growth rate. At maturity, the typical Canyon Live Oak (Chrysolepis) will reach up to 90 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 30 feet.

The Canyon Live Oak (Chrysolepis) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have high vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -11°F. has high tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Erosion: Canyon live oaks contribute to reducing soil loss on steep slopes,

Wildlife: Canyon live oak habitat is critical to a diversity of insects, birds, and mammals. Their acorns are an important food source to birds, rodents, and deer.

Other uses: Pioneers for manufacturing implements such as wagon wheels and axles prized the dense hard wood of canyon live oak. It was also used to make wedges or hammerheads for splitting redwood railroad ties.

General Characteristics

General: Canyon live oak is an evergreen tree with a rounded, dense crown, growing from 6 to 20 m tall. It also may be a low shrub in dry, open habitats. The mature bark is gray and scaly. Like all oaks, it is monoecious and wind-pollinated. Leaves are oblong to elliptic, 2 to 3 cm long, flat, firm, with entire to toothed margins. Although dark green and shiny above, their lower surfaces are paler, grayish, and covered with a yellow “felt.” Like all oaks, it is monoecious and wind-pollinated. Acorn cups are composed of thick, tubercled scales. The one-seeded nuts are 2 to 6 cm long, oblong to elliptic, and mature in less than 2 years. On average, trees have high acorn production once every 2 to 3 years. Flowering takes place from March to May. Fruits mature between August and October.

Required Growing Conditions

Canyon live oak occurs in the mountains of southern Oregon, California, eastward to Arizona and New Mexico. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Adaptation Canyon live oak often occurs on moderate to steep slopes and is a common element in the mixed evergreen and conifer forests of California, ranging in elevation from 200 to 2700 m. It also is somewhat resistant to sporadic fires, often re-sprouting from the base or re-establishing from seedlings.

Cultivation and Care

Like most oaks, it has an obligate relationship with mycorrhizal fungi, which provide critical moisture and nutrients. Seedlings and saplings are shade tolerant and often occur under the canopy of older trees.

Propagation by seed: Oak seeds do not store well and consequently seeds should be planted soon after maturity. Nuts are considered ripe when they separate freely from the acorn cap and fall from the tree. Care should be taken to collect local fruits, because they may be adapted to local environmental conditions. Viable nuts are green to brown and have unblemished walls. Nuts with discoloration, sticky exudates, or small holes caused by insect larvae should be discarded.

Direct Seeding: Seeds may be planted at the beginning of the winter. Once a site is chosen, prepare holes that are 10 inches in diameter and 4 to 5 inches deep. One gram of a slow-release fertilizer should be placed in the bottom and covered by a small amount of soil. Place 6 to 10 acorns in each hole at a depth of 1 to 2 inches. Rodents or birds should use temporary enclosures to minimize herbivory. A simple enclosure can be constructed from a 1-quart plastic dairy container with the bottom removed and a metal screen attached. Near the end of the first season, seedlings should be thinned to 2 or 3 per hole and to 1 seedling by the second season. Supplemental watering may be necessary if a drought of 6 weeks or more occurs during the spring.

Container Planting: Seeds may be planted in one-gallon containers, using well-drained potting soil that includes slow-release fertilizer. Tapered plastic planting tubes, with a volume of 10 cubic inches, also may be used. Seeds should be planted 1 to 2 inches deep and the soil kept moist. Seedlings should be transplanted as soon as the first true leaves mature. Planting holes should be at least twice as wide and deep as the container. Seedlings may require watering every 2 to 3 weeks during the first season. Care should be taken to weed and mulch around young plants until they are 6 to 10 inches tall.

General Upkeep and Control

General: Canyon live oak is not perceived as declining throughout much of its natural range. Significant loss of habitat is unlikely since this species occurs primarily on mountain slopes and canyons on public lands. Nevertheless where fuel loads are high, fire may cause local extirpation. However, regeneration by seeds appears to be one of the highest reported for western oaks.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Slow
General Type Tree, Shrub
Growth Period Spring, Summer, Fall
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Long
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Late Spring
Displays Fall Colors Yes
Shape/Growth Form Single Stem
Drought Tolerance High
Shade Tolerance Tolerant
Height When Mature 90
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color Yellow
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance Medium
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Seed
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -11
Soil Depth for Roots 42
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 4.5–7.5 pH
Precipitation Range 12–12 inches/yr
Planting Density 300–800 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 42
Minimum Frost-Free Days 160 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance None
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Medium
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA