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Quercus gambelii
    If it is an oak in the Four Corners area, it is almost certainly a Gambel's Oak. From elevations of 6,000 to over 9,000 feet, Gambelís Oak is very common along roadways, canyons, and mesas throughout the region.  In the fall, Gambel's Oak often pours down slopes in reds, yellows, and browns.

Quercus gambelii

     "Quercus" is the classical Latin name for Oaks and "gambelii" honors William Gambel, 19th century Western plant collector and Assistant Curator of the National Academy of Sciences. (More biographical information about Gambel.)  

    Click for more Quercus gambelii photographs.    

Quercus gambelii
Quercus gambelii (Gambel’s Oak)
Fagaceae (Beech Family)

Foothills, montane. Shrublands, woodlands. Spring, summer.
Above: Echo Basin Road, October 7, 2016 and along the Dolores River, September 29, 2009.
Left: Robertson Pasture Trail, Abajo Mountains, Utah, May 30, 2006.

Gambel's Oak forms open stands in meadows and, as the next photograph shows, it forms thick, almost impenetrable short scrub stands on canyon sides.  If water is plentiful, the trees will grow to over a foot in diameter and 35 feet tall (see the tree at far left), but most often they are about eight inches in diameter and sixteen feet tall.  Gambel Oak spreads from underground roots and therefore sprouts after fires and regenerates quickly.  Gambel Oak produces an abundance of acorns that are a major source of food for wild turkey, deer, bear, and squirrels.

Quercus gambelii
Quercus gambelii (Gambel’s Oak)
Fagaceae (Beech Family)

Foothills, montane. Shrublands, woodlands. Spring, summer.
Dolores River Canyon, June 19, 2008.

Click for another forest view of Quercus gambelii with Mahonia repens.

Quercus gambelii
Quercus gambelii (Gambel’s Oak)
Fagaceae (Beech Family)

Foothills, montane. Shrublands, woodlands. Spring, summer.
Robertson Pasture Trail, Abajo Mountains, Utah, May 31, 2016.

This clone has the typical Gambel's Oak longitudinal furrows but these furrows are cut horizontally, resulting in bark that looks very much like that of the Alligator Juniper.

 Quercus gambelii

Quercus gambelii

Quercus gambelii (Gambelís Oak) 
Fagaceae (Beech Family)

Foothills, montane. Shrublands, woodlands. Spring, summer.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, May 1 and May 14, 2006.

The male pollen-bearing catkins are nearly ready to open in the top picture.  Numerous clusters of these exotic looking chains produce abundant yellow pollen ensuring pollination of the female (acorn-producing) flower (see pictures below).  Since male and female flowers are on the same tree, Oaks are said to be "monoecious".  Pollen from the male flowers is so abundant that it coats everything around Ė cars, roads, picnic tables, household furniture, noses.

Quercus gambelii

Quercus gambelii

Quercus gambelii

Quercus gambelii  (Gambelís Oak)
Fagaceae (Beech Family)

Foothills, montane. Shrublands, woodlands. Spring, summer.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, May 14, 2006. (Top two photographs)
Echo Basin Road, June 7, 2004.

Quite inconspicuous red female flowers, tucked into the axils of the just emerging leaves at the tip of the stem, mature slowly into acorns. The tiny acorns pictured in the bottom photograph are less than a quarter of an inch across and the red flowers in the top two pictures are about a sixteenth of an inch across. 

Quercus gambelii
Quercus gambelii (Gambel’s Oak)
Fagaceae (Beech Family)

Foothills, montane. Shrublands, woodlands. Spring, summer.
Above: Narraguinnep Natural Area, May 19, 2006.

Orange lichen (most likely a Xanthoria species) are common on Gambel Oaks.

Quercus gambelii
Quercus gambelii  (Gambelís Oak)
Fagaceae (Beech Family)

Foothills, montane. Shrublands, woodlands. Spring, summer.
Lower Stoner Mesa Trail, June 12, 2000.

New spring leaves of Gambelís Oak are often red (as is the case in many other plants) because chlorophyll has not yet masked the original colors (produced by anthocyanins).  In the fall, the chlorophyll fades and the reds reappear.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Quercus gambelii  

Click for more Quercus gambelii photographs.