Chestnut Oak

December 22nd, 2020

Quercus montana

This easily-grown deciduous member of the beech family (Fagaceae) is native to the eastern third of the United States from Maine to Mississippi and southward to northern Florida, with another outlying population in Michigan. The chestnut oak is a medium-tall tree that achieves a total height of 50 to (occasionally) 100 feet and a drip diameter of 50 to 70 feet.

physical description

This tree has large leaves that are dark green on top, and slightly hairy and gray-green on the bottom. In the springtime, separate male (catkins) and female (pistillate) flowers develop and mature to acorns suitable for harvesting in mid-autumn by many animal species, including many species of birds, and mammals such as squirrels and deer.


This species grows best in average, dry to medium moist, well-drained soils in full sun. The chestnut oak will do well in less productive soils and it is rather drought tolerant. It is found from hardiness zones 4 through 8 and therefore will do well in Chattanooga, which is in zone 7.  While many oaks are susceptible to various insect and fungal diseases, the chestnut oak is considered low maintenance.


The chestnut oak would make a good specimen tree for a moderately large lawn area.  It is also frequently used as a shade tree in yards.

interesting information

The species epithet indicates its frequently found near mountains in nature.

The common name refers to the bark, which some observers thought looked like the bark of the American chestnut tree.

The wood of this species is considered highly desirable due to its straight, compact grain, slow growth, and tall height.  

In the past, this species’ lumber was used as fence posts, railroad ties, fire fuel, and as the source of tannins for processing or coloring leather. The wood is often incorrectly marketed as “white oak” for this species.

The chestnut oak is often preyed upon by insects that sting the leaves and then lay their eggs on the leaf surface.  The tree responds by curling and making a protected area for the eggs to develop. This process is not injurious to the tree.

Chestnut oaks are grown and available at the nursery of the Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center.

Charlie is a retired professor and Biological Oceanographer. He taught five courses in the University of Georgia System for many years from his home base in Savannah, Georgia.  

Charlie loves hiking at Reflection Riding, teaching children about the ecology of the area, and interacting with the Reflection Riding staff. They are GREAT!

Posted by Charlie Belin  | Category: native plants

What is Brumation?

December 22nd, 2020

As temperatures get colder and the days grow shorter, our reptiles and amphibians stop eating and begin to hunker down for the winter. They are entering a state called brumation, which is loosely considered the reptile form of hibernation. They will leave brumation when the temperatures get warmer and the days get longer in spring. We try to give all of our animal ambassadors a life as similar to the wild as possible, so we allow our reptiles to naturally brumate. Some remain on exhibit while others are placed in a hibernaculum.

Why do reptiles and amphibians brumate? In the most basic sense, brumation is a survival tactic — a tactic that has been hard-wired into the brains of these animals for well over a million years. Ectotherms (reptiles and amphibians) rely on the environment to regulate their body temperature and must be warm to hunt, eat, and digest food. When the temperature is low and the animal cannot get warm, they must have behavioral adaptations in order to survive. 

When a reptile or amphibian brumates, it becomes lethargic, sometimes not moving at all for the duration of the cold season. Some will move on warmer winter days and find water.  Most do not eat during brumation.

In nature, these animals typically find hibernacula within their environment, where they can be somewhat insulated, to spend the brumation period. Burrows, rock crevices, caves, and leaf litter are a few examples of hibernacula. 

In broad terms, reptiles will enter brumation in the late fall (when temperatures drop and the photoperiod decreases) and come out of brumation in spring, triggered by increased temperatures, longer days, and changes in barometric pressure.

Posted by Tish Gailmard  | Category: wildlife

Question 1

Hello Charlie,

What are some resources for a botanist to learn how to ID grasses and sedges? I have books, I've taken a couple workshops, I try to ID them on my own, but it's just not enough. I am ready to take it to the next level.

Thank you!

Obsessed with Grasses


Hi Obsessed with Grasses,

Sedges and grasses are notoriously difficult to identify to the species because of the very small differences in their structures that are used to identify them. Some native grasses can only be identified at certain times of the year, like when they just start to set their flowers, and some sedges are only able to be identified by the relative length of some of their parts, like the length of the coverings around the seed head. Some of the identifying structures can only be observed with either a microscope or at least a magnifying glass.

The best texts used to identify the sedges were written in the early 20th century in German, which is not that helpful for many of us.

There are two fellows at the Missouri Botanical Garden that are quite good at grass identification and they have provided an online plant finder. The Hamilton County Master Gardener program also has several keys to various plants; two deal with grasses.

If you’re still convinced you must identify the grasses and sedges, send me an email and we’ll discuss this further. Good Luck!

Question 2

Dear Charlie,

I have a lemon tree in a pot. I've tried several solid fertilizers, because I've heard lemon trees use a lot of nutrients. It seemed to be doing pretty well and producing a lot of flowers and fruits.  None of the fruits made it larger than a black bean. I figured it was just because it was my first year with the tree and it was stressed from the transplanting. After the first few failed fruits, I tried to pinch off the buds so the plant could focus more on rooting and foliage. Now, almost all the leaves have fallen off. The plant is still growing, but it just keeps putting out flower buds, not any new leaves. I'm trying to pinch them off, but I'm not sure how to stimulate foliage growth and discourage flowers.

I have a grow light on it, and I shortened the amount of sunlight, figuring this would emulate winter and stop the flowers, but it hasn't. I know nitrogen is good for foliage, but is there a better fertilizer than solids?  I'm trying not to overwater the plant, but that means I usually only water it once a week or every 10 days.  I don't think the fertilizer gets released as well under these conditions.


Longing for Lemons


No need to pinch off any leaves, especially at this time of the year. This is your lemon tree’s food source and it needs all of them. 

In our climate here in the Chattanooga area, the members of the Citrus genus don’t do very well. It sounds like what you are doing is good. With a few suggestions, you will be on the way to better lemons.

First of all, lemons do need incredible amounts of nutrients. You may want to try using a liquid fertilizer for a few weeks. But it sounds to me that of the three basic needs of most plants (sunlight, water and nutrients) your lemon tree is not getting enough light. Remember that most citrus trees in Florida use as much sunlight as they can get. Even with a grow-light they still may not be getting adequate light.  This conclusion is based on the abortion of most of the buds prior to ripening.

My suggestion is to place the tree in an area where it can get as much light as possible.  If you put a grow-light on the tree, simulate a photoperiod of 8 hours sunlight and 16 hours dark, or nearly so. Good luck!

Posted by Charlie Belin  | Category: botanical

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