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Notholithocarpus densiflorus (Hook. & Arn.) P.S. Manos, C.H. Cannon, & S.H. Oh
Tan Oak, Tanoak, Tan-oak, Tanbark-oak
Fagaceae (Beech Family)
Synonym(s): Lithocarpus densiflorus
USDA Symbol: NODE3
USDA Native Status: L48 (N)
Tan Oak is a narrow, conical (broad-crowned if open-grown) tree, growing slowly to more than 100 ft. in the wild. Garden specimens are rarely over 30 ft. Evergreen tree with a great central trunk and crown varying from narrow and conical to broad and rounded; sometimes a shrub. The thick, leathery, oblong, sharply toothed leaves are gray-green on the upper surface, fuzzy-white below. This is an evergreen tree.
Tan oak is placed in a separate genus, Notholithocarpus, from true oaks (genus Quercus), with more than 100 species native to southeast Asia and Indomalaysia. While the acorns resemble those of true oaks, the flowers are like those of chinkapins and chestnuts (genus Castanea). Tan oak bark was once the main commercial western source of tannin. Indians ground flour from the large acorns after removing the shells and washing the seeds in hot water to remove the bitter taste.
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Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial
Leaf Retention: Evergreen
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Venation: Pinnate
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Fruit Type: Nut
Size Notes: Up to about 130 feet tall.
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Yellow , Green
Bloom Time: May , Jun , Jul , Aug , Sep , Oct
DistributionUSA: CA , OR
Native Distribution: Coast Ranges from Ventura to Del Norte Cos. & s. OR
Native Habitat: Wooded slopes below 4500 ft.
Growing ConditionsWater Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: None
Soil Description: Moist, sandy or gravelly soils.
BenefitUse Food: Indians ground flour from the large acorns after removing the shells and washing the seeds in hot water to remove the bitter taste.
Use Other: Tan oak bark was once the main commercial western source of tannin.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
PropagationDescription: Sow acorns in peat or sand soon after harvest and provide protection against animals. Vegetative propagative is possible but the take is usually poor.
Seed Collection: Acorns ripen in the second autum. Collect then.
Seed Treatment: No treatment is necessary.
Commercially Avail: yes
Find Seed or Plants
View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.
From the National Organizations DirectoryAccording to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden - Santa Barbara, CA
BibliographyBibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 1218 - Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources (2006) Anderson, M. Kat
Search More Titles in Bibliography
Web ReferenceWebref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter
Additional resourcesUSDA: Find Notholithocarpus densiflorus in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Notholithocarpus densiflorus in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Notholithocarpus densiflorus
MetadataRecord Modified: 2023-04-04
Research By: TWC Staff