1222 Castanea pumilaCommon Names: chinquapin, chinkapin, Allegheny chinkapin Family: Fagaceae (beech Family)
The chinquapin (say chink´-ah-pin) is a large shrub or small tree that closely resembles a small American chestnut or Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima). Chinquapins are usually around 15-20 ft (4-6 m) in height, but on very good, unburned sites they can get up to 65 ft (20 m) tall. The National Champion chinquapin, growing in Perry, Pennsylvania, is 65 ft (19.5 m) tall, has a trunk diameter of 20 in (51 cm), and a spread of 51 ft (15.3 m). On sites that burn frequently, such as the American Southeast’s longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) dominated high pine or sandhills, chinquapin survives the fires and grows as a clonal shrub just 2-6 ft (0.8-2 m) tall. In such situations it spreads vegetatively from rhizomes, and often forms thickets. Like the chestnut, the leaves of chinquapin are oblong and coarsely toothed, but they are a little smaller, usually only 4-5 in (10-13 cm) long. The leaves are alternate, deciduous, dark shiny green above and fuzzy white beneath, usually growing in two ranks along the stems. The catkins are fragrant and may include pistillate and staminate flowers or pistillate flowers only. The edible nuts are like chestnuts, too, but much smaller, just a ¼ to ¾ inch (7-20 mm) long. They are enclosed in a spiny burr-like husk that splits open in autumn. The husks are borne in conspicuous clusters, green at first and turning brown when ripe.
Castanea pumila ‘Golden’ has been mentioned, but we could not find a source for it. Hybrids of chinquapin and American chestnut (Castanea dentata) have been called Castanea X neglecta.
Chinquapin (Castanea pumila) is native to southeastern North America from Missouri to new Jersey and south to East Texas and Central Florida. It occurs in mesic to xeric mixed woodlands and oak scrub as well as dry planted pine stands, fence rows and old fields. Chinquapin is sometimes locally abundant as a low growing clonal shrub on upland longleaf pine sites that burn frequently (high pine).
Chinquapin does best in dry, sandy soils in full sun. Light: Chinquapin is tolerant of light shade, but is happier in full sun. Moisture: Once established, chinquapin is quite tolerant of droughts. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9. Propagation: Seeds should be planted as soon as ripe. Sown in the fall, chinquapin seeds can have a germination rate better than 90%; seeds stored over the winter and planted in spring, less than 50%. Chinquapin resprouts readily from stumps, whether cut or fire-burned. It spreads vegetatively from rhizomes, often forming thickets.
The slender, spreading branches and bold, glossy dark green foliage of a healthy chinquapin shrub makes it a standout in the landscape. And, the leaves turn an attractive yellow in fall. Grow this American native as a specimen or in a naturalistic woodland setting.
The nuts are quite sweet and popular with all manner of wildlife. We have heard that chinquapin nuts, although small, are better tasting than those of American chestnut (Castanea dentata). Chinquapins can begin bearing nuts by their 2nd or 3rd growing season, but the crops are normally not abundant until their 5th or 6th season.
Apparently some populations (but not all) of chinquapin are susceptible to chestnut blight, the fungus disease that caused the virtual extinction of American chestnut. In some areas, especially the Ozarks, much of Alabama and parts of Kentucky, chinquapin has all but disappeared, apparently due to chestnut blight. The species is listed as Threatened in Kentucky and Endangered in New Jersey. Still, chinquapin remains abundant in most of its range.
Steve Christman 8/14/14