Lacey oak is a beautiful small to medium size deciduous tree with a minor identity problem, being known alternately as Quercus laceyi or Quercus glaucoides. Most folks simply call it lacey oak, but other common names it has worn over time include blue oak, canyon oak, encino robie, mountain oak, smoky oak, and rock oak. Most of these common names refer to the tough conditions in central and south Texas where this species resides or are related to its handsome blue–green foliage.
Regardless of the name, this plant has much to offer as a landscape plant in its native Texas. Leaves expand as a soft pink color, turning a handsome blue–green as they mature lending the plant an intriguing smoky air. The foliage is seldom bothered by insects or disease. Fall color varies from brown to yellow. Growth habit will vary with local environmental conditions, with the ultimate size ranging in most cultivated landscapes from 30' to 35' in height and spread. One of the best attributes of lacey oak is it's picturesque irregularly rounded crown. With this crown placed atop a stoutish trunk baring platy gray bark it makes a handsome addition to Texas landscapes, resembling a miniature white oak, but of tougher constitution.
Lacey oak is highly tolerant of heat, drought, and high pH soils once established. Full sun to light afternoon shade with morning sun are the best exposures. Lacey oak will survive on well drained clay soils, but it grows best on well drained limestone soils. Although lacey oak can be grown in east Texas, it is best adapted to the hill country and cultivated settings in west Texas. Cold tolerance has not been fully documented for lacey oak, but based on regional plantings it should be suitable for use in USDA zones 7 (perhaps protected spots in 6b) through 9.
Lacey oak is a Texas Superstar®, but even superstars have limits. Limitations for lacey oak include an intolerance to poorly drained soils, a moderate growth rate, and a tendency to need some initial minor pruning to maintain a strong central leader. Growth and landscape appeal in high rainfall areas will be enhanced if the trees are planted on raised beds or berms.
Landscape utilization of lacey oak might include placement as a specimen plant, small to medium size lawn or shade tree, or site it to shade a patio. This species would be a natural in native Texas landscapes and naturalized plantings, where the acorns can serve as a wildlife attractant. Xeriscapes or low water use landscapes are perfect conditions for growing lacey oak. For a bit of the unusual, try growing lacey oak as a specimen in large containers to accent courtyards or entryways to large buildings. The picturesque growth habit of this species would be accentuated if it were used as a bonsai plant.
Lacey oak deserves frequent consideration when discussing smaller shade trees that will stay in scale with residential landscapes. This beautiful tree will add a touch of the Texas hill country to your urban landscape.
Draft press release submitted by Michael A. Arnold, 7/25/02