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Tree to 10 m, 0.7 m dbh, perhaps much larger in cultivation. Bark smooth when young, becoming furrowed and scaly at the base, forming square plates. Branchlets glabrous and glossy red or reddish grey with prominent lenticels. Leaves tardily deciduous, glossy dark green, 1.5–2.5 × 6–9 cm, narrowly lanceolate, often puckered, immature leaves may have minute flaky scales above and short hairs below; mature leaves glossy dark green or metallic and largely glabrous, but some pubescence may remain in the vein axils of the lower surface, six to eight poorly defined secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins with deep or shallow lobes and 9–13 bristles, apex long-acuminate to caudate; petiole 1–2 cm long, yellowish and glabrous. Infructescence 0.5–3 cm long with one to four cupules. Cupule cup-shaped, 0.8–1 × 0.5 cm diameter; scales acute, silvery and appressed. Acorn elongated-ovoid, with one-third to half of its length enclosed in the cupule, covered in silky hairs, ~1.2 cm long, stylopodium persistent, elongated; maturing in the first year. Flowering March, fruiting August of the same year (Mexico). Trelease 1924. Distribution MEXICO: Nuevo León, Tamaulipas. Habitat Foothills of the Sierra Madre, between 650 and 2000 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 6. Conservation status Not evaluated.
Quercus canbyi is proving to be a vigorous, rapidly growing species wherever it has been cultivated. The first introduction to the United Kingdom appears to have been from collections made by Sir Harold Hillier in Mexico in 1979. Trees from these accessions are now over 10 m in height at the Hillier Gardens, and may become much larger than recorded wild specimens. They are good-looking trees, well clad in dark leaves. Later collections are in cultivation and are also growing well. In the United States, Melendrez (2000) reports that Q. canbyi is an exceptionally rapid grower at Los Lunas, New Mexico (1500 m, Zone 6b), putting on 1.2–1.5 m of growth each year, with even the September flush hardening off before frosts in October. In these conditions it is semi-evergreen and has good maroon winter colour on long-persistent leaves. This is also the pattern at Kruchten, where the leaves fall in January, but here the upper third of the new shoots freezes off, to resprout the following May (E. Jablonski, pers. comm. 2006). It is said by Melendrez to grow well on alkaline limestone soil, and is happy at pH 7.0 at Kruchten, but Hillier & Coombes (2002) mark it as a calcifuge.