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American turkey oak (Quercus laevis) is a small, moderately fast-growing deciduous tree in the red oak group of oaks. It is native to the subtropical Southeastern United States along the Gulf plane from Louisiana to central Florida, and along the Atlantic coast north to Virginia. Turkey oak is a remarkably drought tolerant species. It grows in the dry, infertile, sandy dunes, soils of ridges, high pinelands, and pine scrub up to 150 meters (500 feet) in altitude. These are harsh habitats where few other oaks can survive.
Turkey oak grows as a small tree generally 6-9 m (20-30 feet) tall, although individuals do occasionally grow taller. The tallest known individual is 25 m (83 ft) in height, located in Branford, Florida. Turkey oaks have thick, ridged bark that is grey on young trees but turns black in older individuals.
In spring (March-May), turkey oak trees produce separate male and female flowers. Male flowers hang from the branches as 7.5-12.5 cm (3-5 inch) long catkins. Female flowers are small, and grow directly off the stem, either alone or in pairs. Acorns take two years to develop and then drop from the tree in the fall. Germination occurs in spring, and young turkey oak seedlings develop long taproots and a complex root system. Acorn germination, however, is not common; turkey oak trees tend to expand clonally rather than by seed. The acorns are an important food to wildlife species, including black bear, white-tailed deer, northern bobwhite quail, and wild turkey.
Turkey oak often associates with longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) and sometimes also blackjack oak (Q. incana) in high pine land ecosystems. It is intolerant of shade, preferring full sun. It often grows in pure stands, or as understory in sparse pine forests. Turkey oaks grow abundantly, and are common especially in northwest Florida. In Florida alone, they are thought to cover approximately 9 to 10 million acres of land. Regular forest fires will keep turkey oak populations in check, as they less resistant to forest fire than pines are. However, turkey oak will replace longleaf pine trees in stands where fires are suppressed.
While it is not a commercially important species, turkey oak is noted for its wood, which is touted as excellent fuel. Its acorns are sometimes roasted and used as a substitute for coffee, or the seed is ground and used as a flour or soup thickener, once the bitter tannins are washed out. Galls on the leaves are used as an astringent to treat haemorrhages, chronic diarrhoea, and dysentery.
Turkey oak (also called turkey foot oak) is named for its 3-lobed leaves, which resemble a turkey's foot. Because there is a European turkey oak, Q. laevis is called American turkey oak to avoid confusion. This species is also known as Catesby oak or scrub oak.
(Andreu et al. 2010; Carey 1992; Harlow 1990; Holmes 2012; Wenzel and Kenny 2015)