March 2024 Plant of the Month
Quercus ilicifolia Wang., Bear or Scrub Oak
March’s Plant of the Month is a common species often associated with the Pine Barrens. Bear or scrub oak, Quercus ilicifolia, is a shrubby member of the Beech family, Fagaceae. It is one of two shrub species of Quercus native to the State. The other species dwarf chestnut oak, Quercus prinoides, which is often found together with our Plant of the Month. Hough (1983) cites a state-wide distribution, with concentrations in the Pine Barrens as well as on the Kittatinny.
As its name suggests, shrub oak is a short stature shrub that is found on nutrient poor, drought-prone soils. This shrub is a major constituent of the Pine Barrens upland forests, where it occupies a significant part of the upland landscape where Cohansey Sand and Beacon Hill Gravels are exposed. Scrub oak is also a fire tolerant species and is one of the many Pinelands species adapted to this land shaping characteristic.
The cultural use of scrub oak is limited. It has few wood-oriented benefits, but is a species suitable for xeric landscape restoration. Moerman (1998) cites an Iroquois use as a gynecological aid. Apparently its acorn is too bitter to use as a prime food source. Bear or scrub oak is visible year round in the uplands of the Pine Barrens as well on top of Kittatinny Mountain.