Log in

Editor's Picks

Carlos collecting Quercus ×alentejana (Q. faginea × Q. pyrenaica) in northeastern Portugal for his PhD thesis © Carlos Vila-Viçosa
An interview with Portuguese oak conservationist Dr. Carlos...
Amy Byrne | Apr 19, 2024
Roderick Cameron | Apr 13, 2024
Pages from Gert's book
It was a great pleasure for me to be able to write about my...
Gert Fortgens | Feb 15, 2024

Plant Focus

Quercus crassipes acorns with inrolled cupule margin
One of the more well-known Mexican oaks in cultivation.

Cultivar Close-Up: Quercus aliena 'Lutea'

Nurseryman Don Teese from Victoria, Australia wrote to the IOS last month with some interesting information about the cultivar Quercus aliena ‘Lutea’. This selection was described in 2016 by Ryan Russell and Eike Jablonski in International Oaks No. 27 (pp. 146–148), though it had been named and was in cultivation in Japan since before 1959. It is a small tree (6 × 5 m), slower growing than typical Q. aliena and distinguished by having pure yellow new leaves in spring that become glossy light green throughout the summer. According to Russell and Jablonski, the oak cultivar has been cultivated since the early 1960s at Shibamichi Nursery near Saitama, on the outskirts of Tokyo, and in some other Japanese nurseries. Akira Shibamichi, owner of the nursery, told them that the original tree, possibly over 200 years old and with a girth exceeding 4 m, is known to the local people of Kyushu Island, the most southwesterly of Japan’s main islands.

Quercus aliena 'Lutea' features buttery yellow foliage in spring
Quercus aliena 'Lutea' features buttery yellow foliage in spring

The cultivar is rare in cultivation outside Japan: it is not listed in the Cultivated Oaks of the World database, and though a herbarium specimen at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens was taken from a specimen growing there in 1998, all of the several trees in that collection have since died. In Australia, however, this oak has been in cultivation for about a century. According to Don Teese it was extremely rare till he started grafting it. “I believe it arrived in Australia via Gembrook Nurseries—later Nobelius Nursery,” he said. “Nobelius was at the time the biggest nursery in the Southern Hemisphere, selling to Asia, Europe, South Africa, and the U.S. Carl Nobelius, founder of the nursery, visited Japan around the late 1800s and early 1900s, and brought back many plants including the first Kiwi fruits (Actinidia chinensis var. deliciosa), which were sent to New Zealand, starting that industry.”

Quercus aliena Lutea
The leaves turn glossy light green in summer © Peter Teese

The oak appears in the Nobelius catalogs from the 1930s as Q. mongolica ‘Aurea’, and it was also known as Q. dentata ‘Aurea’ and Q. aliena ‘Aurea’. The epithet ‘Lutea’ means “yellow” and derives from the Latin lutum, the name for a plant used to extract a yellow dye (Reseda luteola, known as dyer’s weed or dyer’s rocket).

Leaves on a seedling of Quercus aliena 'Lutea' that also sports yellow foliage in spring
Leaves on a seedling of Quercus aliena 'Lutea', which also sports yellow foliage in spring, here already starting to turn green 

Don found a tree in a garden near him which could have dated from the 1930s. “It was very sick, but after several years trying, a few grafts survived and then we were away,” he said. “It is difficult to graft and we have only ever had one gold seedling in many years. We have used Q. dentata as the under stock, which seems to be compatible once it takes. I suspect the almost translucent wood on young twigs just doesn’t have much chlorophyll so it grafts at a poor percent.” According to Russell and Jablonski, the main feature of the cultivar is its yellow foliage in spring, but Don points out that the leaves are also attractive in autumn, when they again turn from summer’s pale green to a rich yellow (see photo below).

In autumn the foliage turns back to yellow, here photographed in April 2020 (autumn in Australia)
In autumn the foliage turns back to yellow, here photographed in April 2020

All photos © Don Teese, unless specified