1246 Quercus prinusCommon Names: chestnut oak,rock chestnut oak,rock oak,basket oak,tanbark oak Family: Fagaceae (beech Family)
The deciduous leaves of chestnut oak look somewhat like those of a chestnut (see Spanish chestnut, Castanea sativa), and a lot like those of swamp chestnut oak (Q. michauxii). They are elliptical, 5-10 in (12-25 cm) long, and 2-3 in (25-75 mm) wide, with large irregular rounded teeth on the wavy margins. The leaves are shiny yellowish green on top and dull grayish underneath, often turning yellowish brown to almost orange in autumn.
Chestnut oak is a slow growing tree that has been known to live more than 400 years. It reaches a height of 50-100 ft (15-30 m), with an open and broad, irregularly rounded crown, spreading about the same as the tree’s height. Most specimens are less than 60 ft (18 m) in height. The trunk is tall and straight on forest grown specimens, but develops spreading lower branches when growing in the open. The bark is reddish brown and smooth on young branches but becomes darker brown with deep fissures and large coarse ridges with age.
Like other members of the white oak group, chestnut oak acorns mature in the fall of their first year. (See Floridata’s northern red oak profile for a discussion of the two main groups of American oaks.) The acorns are among the largest of the oaks, 1-1.5 in (25-38 mm) long, with a cup enclosing almost half the nut. The reddish brown cup is hairy and has thick, rough scales. The nut itself is bright shiny brown, about an inch (25 mm) long, and is edible and sweet.
Chestnut oak, Quercus prinus, is native to the Piedmont and Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States from Maine to the northern tiers of South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. Chestnut oak grows on dry, often sandy, well drained soils in the mountains and foothills, and does especially well in protected valleys and gentle slopes. This common component of the eastern mixed forest is often found growing with white oak (Q. alba), black oak (Q. velutina), red maple (Acer rubrum), various hickories(Carya spp.) and white pine (Pinus strobus). Chestnut oak achieves its best development in bottoms and cove forests in the mountains of Tennessee and the Carolinas. On some dry, rocky ridges, chestnut oak may occur in pure stands.
Light:Chestnut oak is considered intermediate in its tolerance to shade. That is, saplings can survive under a forest canopy, but the tops die back and resprout until a gap is created and sunlight finally reaches the sapling, at which time it is “released” and grows into a tree. Moisture: Chestnut oak does better on dry and very well drained sites than other large oaks. In nature it is a tree of upland sites and ridge tops, and tolerates poor, rocky and sandy soils. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 8 . Propagation:: The acorns of chestnut oak mature in a single season and fall to the ground earlier than those of other oaks. Trees begin bearing around 20 years of age and good crops tend to occur every 4-7 years, and in some situations, more frequently. The nuts germinate soon after falling on suitable substrate and require no chilling or other pre-treatment.
Chestnut oak acorns are rather sweet and were eaten by Native Americans wherever they occurred. They are a favorite food of wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, black bears, squirrels and other rodents. (The nuts of chestnut oak are too large for most birds to handle.) Chestnut oak bark has been used to make a dye. The bark of chestnut oak has the highest concentration of tannin among the oaks and was once the most important source of tannins used for processing leather.
The wood is close grained, heavy, strong and durable, and used for fence posts, railroad ties and fuel. It is often marketed as “white oak” or “mixed white oak.”
Chestnut oak is a handsome deciduous shade tree and deserves to be planted more often. It would make a fine specimen tree in a home landscape. Chestnut oak tolerates poor, dry and gravelly soils, and can go extended periods with little watering. It is slow growing and doesn’t get huge. Chestnut oak would be a good choice for planting along streets, sidewalks and parking lots. Unfortunately, few nurseries carry this fine native American tree.
Steve Christman 11/14/15