An evergreen tree up to 40 to 60 ft high in the wild, with a short, thick trunk, but scarcely more than a shrub as yet in cultivation; young shoots covered with starry down. Leaves 1 to 31⁄2 in. long, half to almost as wide, ovate or oval, the smaller ones often roundish, heart-shaped at the base, terminated by a spiny tooth, also furnished on young plants with four to ten large spiny teeth at each side, terminating as many parallel veins. On old trees the leaves are described as entire. The upper surface is at first furnished with stellate down, but soon becomes nearly or quite glabrous, and of a dark shining green; lower surface dull and at first yellowish downy, but often glabrous the second year; stalks 1⁄12 to 1⁄6 in. long, clothed with starry down. Fruits solitary or in pairs, scarcely stalked; acorns egg-shaped, 3⁄4 to 1 in. long, the downy cup enclosing less than half its length.
Native of California; introduced by Sargent in 1877, but the trees now in cultivation are of later date. It is distinguished among evergreen oaks with foliage of the same character, by the yellowish appressed down beneath the leaves, which, however, is not so thick on plants cultivated in this country as it is in W. America. Of this tree Sargent observes that, in its native state, it is surpassed in majestic dignity and massive strength by no other American species except Q. virginiana of the southern Atlantic states. Trees exist with heads of branches fifty yards across.
At Kew there are two examples of this oak planted in 1904, the larger 33 × 33⁄4 ft (1972). The tree in the National Botanic Garden, Glasnevin, Dublin, may be older: it measures 40 × 5 ft (1966).
Q. vacciniifolia Kell. Q. chrysolepis var. vaccinifolia (Kell). Engelm. – This is sometimes associated with the above as a variety, but is probably a quite distinct species. It is a prostrate shrub up to 4 ft high, with small, oval, mostly entire leaves, covered beneath with a pale grey scurf. Introduced in 1900. Wild on rocky hillsides in Oregon and California. It is quite hardy at Jermyns House, near Romsey, Hants.