Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Quercus gambelii, Gambel Oak

Gambel Oak has greenish or brownish male and female catkins as noted in the photograph. The unisexual flowers are wind pollinated. Quercus gambelii Gambel Oak trees produce the all-important acorn, either solitary of in clusters of 2. The developing acorns are visible as very thick-skinned small round buttons as in the photograph. Quercus gambeliiGambel Oak trees produce the all-important acorn, either solitary of in clusters of 2. The developing acorns are visible as very thick-skinned small round buttons as shown in the photograph above. Note in this photo one acorn is fully developed while the other acorn did not and will not fully develop. Quercus gambeliiGambel Oak trees are one of easiest oaks to identify in the field because of the large, up to 5 inche (127 mm) long leaves with deep lobes. The leaves are deciduous and the top, or exposed side is bright green while the bottom side of the leaf (abaxial) is dull or noticeably not as bright as upper half. Not shown in this photo. Quercus gambelii Gambel Oak grow upwards of 40 feet (12 m) with large massive trunks. The bark is light gray with longitudinal fissures. New twigs are grayish pubescent, some dark reddish brown and the older twigs are glabrescent, some light brown or gray. Quercus gambelii Gambel Oak is one of the most important plant species for wildlife species in the southwestern United States. It is also important to native indigenous people providing food, tools, ceremonial purposes and other valuable uses. Tree bloom from April through June with fruiting in August and September. Quercus gambelii

Scientific Name: Quercus gambelii
Common Name: Gambel Oak

Also Called: Gambel's Oak, Rocky Mountain White Oak, Scrub Oak and Utah White Oak.

Family: Fagaceae, Beech Family

Synonyms: (Quercus gambelii var. utahensis, Quercus undulata var. gambelii, Quercus undulata var. gunnisonii)

Status: Native

Duration: Perennial

Size: Trees to 40 or 50 feet (12 to 15 m), shrubs 6.5 feet (2 m) - Height relative to geographic location.

Growth Form: Tree or Shrub forms clones, often forming thickets; bark light gray, longitudinal fissures, new twigs grayish pubescent, dark reddish brown, older twigs glabrescent, light brown or gray; reproduces from seed or roots.

Leaves: Green; about 5 inches (127 mm) long; deciduous deeply or moderately lobed, leaf form variable from elliptic to obovate or oblong; leaf top (adaxial)bright green, bottom of the leaf (abaxial) dull or noticeably not as bright as upper half.

Flower Color: Greenish or brownish male and female catkins, flowers unisexual, wind pollinated; fruit an acorn, either solitary or small clusters; the developing acorns are visible as very thick-skinned small round buttons as in the photograph above.

Flowering Season: April to June, March to April in Utah and Texas; fruiting August to October.

Elevation: 3,000 to 9700 feet (1,000 to 2,900 m)

Habitat Preferences: Moist or dry uplands and upper elevation hills and foothills, lower mountain elevations, slopes, canyons and foothills. Habitat preferences vary greatly across this species broad geographic range and include the following communities; Ponderosa Pine, Fir-spruce, Sagebrush, Upland Chaparral, Pinyon-juniper and various grassland types.

Recorded Range: Gambel Oak is found predominately in the southwestern United States in: AZ, CO, NM, NV, OK, TX, UT north into WY and marginally in SD. There are also extend southward into Mexico in Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Sonora.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Gambel Oak.

U.S. Weed Information: No information available.
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: No information available.
Wetland Indicator: No information available.
Threatened/Endangered Information: No information available.

Genus Information: In North America there are 106 species for Quercus. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 597 accepted species names for the genus.

In the Southwestern United States, in addition to a host of hybrids Arizona has 15 species of Quercus, California has 22 species, Nevada has 4 species, New Mexico has 17 species, Texas has 48 species, Utah has 3 species. All data approximate and subject to revision.

There are 2 varieties in Quercus gambelii, Gambel Oak;
Quercus gambelii var. bonina, Gambel Oak (UT, se corner);
Quercus gambelii var. gambelii, Gambel Oak (AZ, CO, NM, NV, OK, SD, TX, UT, WY);

Comments: Gambel Oak is one of the most important plant species for wildlife species in the southwestern United States. It is also important to native indigenous people providing food, tools, ceremonial purposes and other valuable uses. Additionally, the wood is sold for fire wood and used for making fenceposts and the tree and associated habitats make it an important plant for watershed protection.

Gambel Oak is known to hybridize with Arizona White Oak, Gray Oak, Sonoran Scrub Oak, Bur Oak, Chinkapin Oak, Mohr's Oak and Shrub Live Oak have been documented. This oak is probably one of the easiest oaks to recognize with its large lobed leaves and massive growth.

In Southwest Desert Flora also see Emory Oak, Quercus emoryi and Sonoran Scrub Oak, Quercus turbinella.

Importance to Wildlife
Gambel oak is an ecologically important species throughout its range as it provides food, cover and habitat for a multitude of wildlife and insect species. The exact wildlife values vary and are dependent on existing habitat values. Known wildlife species utilizing Gambel Oak include; Mule and White-tailed Deer, Black Bear (spring and fall food), Elk, including Rocky Mountain Elk, Big-horn Sheep, Javelina, Abert's Squirrel and other squirrels, rabbits and a variety of rodents. Also benefiting are birds including Turkeys, Quail, including California and Gambel's Quail, Band-tailed Pigeons, Ring-necked Pheasants, Scrub Jays, Columbia Sharp-tailed Grouse, Black-billed Magpie, Rufous-sided Towhees, Black-capped Chickadees, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Pygmy Owls and insectivorous birds. Ponderosa Pine - Gambel oak communities are known to provide perching and nest sites for the Mexican Spotted Owl which is listed as a Threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The U. S. Forest Service has an excellent site with detailed information about Gambel Oak on-line at: Fire Effects Information System (FEIS).

Special Value to Native Bees, Butterflies, Birds and Insects
Gambel Oak, Quercus gambelii is a host plant for the following butterfly caterpillars: - Find out more from Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA).
  • Catocala Aholibah, Aholibah Underwing Moth, Caterpillar Hosts: larvae feed on Oak spp. Quercus agrifolia, Q. alba, Q. gambelii, and Q. garryana.
  • Colorado Hairstreak, Hypaurotis crysalus, Caterpillar Hosts: Leaves of oaks, particularly Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii) in the beech family (Fagaceae).
  • In Southwest Desert Flora also see Emory Oak, Quercus emoryi and Sonoran Scrub Oak, Quercus turbinella.

    The genus "Quercus" is from Latin, meaning "oak" and the species epithet "gambelii" is named for American naturalist William Gambel (1821-1849) an assistant curator at the National Academy of Sciences.

    Quercus gambelii, Gambel Oak has been used for food, tools, ceremonial purposes and other valuable uses. by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.
  • Acoma Food, Staple, Acorns ground into meal, boiled and eaten.
  • Apache, Chiricahua White Mountain Other, Mescalero, Fruit, Food, Winter Use Food, Hide Preparation, Acorns roasted slightly, pounded, mixed with dried meat and stored away in hide containers, acorns used for food, acorns eaten whole and raw, ground on a metate or boiled, bark used to tan skins.
  • Havasupai Food, Porridge, Spice, Tools, Acorns parched, ground and used to make mush, acorns ground and added to flavor beef or deer soups, wood used to make handles for implements, such as hoes and axes.
  • Hopi Other, Ceremonial Items, Plant used in Oaqol ceremony.
  • Hualapai Food, Soup, Acorns used to make soup, acorns roasted and used for food.
  • Isleta Drug, Reproductive Aid, Tools, Consumption of acorns believed to give greater sexual potency, wood used to make handles and other wooden portions of various implements.
  • Laguna Food, Unspecified, Acorns boiled and eaten.
  • Navajo, Ramah Drug, Cathartic, Ceremonial Medicine, Gynecological Aid, Decoction of root bark used as a cathartic, leaves used as a ceremonial emetic, decoction of root bark used for postpartum pain and to help in delivery of placenta; red leaf galls & red clay or gum used to make stripes on arrow shafts between & below the feathers, acorns eaten raw, boiled, roasted in ashes or dried, ground and cooked like corn meal; Wood used to make axe handles, hoe handles, digging sticks and weaving tools.
  • Neeshenam Food, Bread & Cake, Porridge, Acorns ground into flour, soaked in water and baked to make a bread, acorns ground into flour, soaked in water and cooked to make mush.
  • Pueblo Food, Unspecified, Acorns formerly used extensively for food.
  • San Felipe Food, Staple, Acorns ground into meal.
  • Yavapai Food, Cooking Agent, Acorns sometimes added as thickening to venison stews.
  • Cochiti Food, Staple, Unspecified, Acorns ground into meal, acorns boiled and eaten.

  • See complete species account from Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

    Date Profile Completed: 08/21/2019
    Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, Arizona Flora, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California.
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search - (accessed 08/20/2019)
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 08/16/2019).
    Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet (accessed 08/21/2019). Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
    Kevin C. Nixon, FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 3 | Fagaceae | Quercus 4. Quercus emoryi Torrey in W. H. Emory, Not. Milit. Reconn. 151, plate 9. 1848.; Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
    Simonin, Kevin A. 2000. Quercus gambelii. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [2019, August 22].
    Leslie R. Landrum, 1993, Vascular Plants of Arizona Project: Fagaceae - JANAS 27(2): 203-214. 1994. (accessed 08/20/2019).
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Quercus gambelii', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 12 July 2019, 10:19 UTC, [accessed 20 August 2019]
    Range Plants of Utah, USU, Utah State University; Extension Program. (accessed 08/21/2019 )
    SEINet synonyms, scientific names, geographic locations, general information, (accessed 07/14/2019).