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.
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.
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!