This oak, which is in the white oak group, survives dry, sterile, rocky sites on hilly ridges (other common names are mountain oak and rock oak). It is easily identified by its bark, which is light-to-medium gray, very thick, and massively ridged. Thick green leaves, huge acorns, stout twigs, and craggy winter silhouette give this medium-sized tree a majestic presence. The common name “chestnut” comes from the resemblance of its serrated, round-lobed leaves to those of the American chestnut tree, and the similarity of its nuts to chestnuts, when roasted.
Oak trees are a keystone plant and have incredible wildlife value, hosting 477 species of lepidoptera larvae in central Ohio. Over 600 different insect species use oaks exclusively for host plants. Consequently, oaks support a huge number of bird species that feed on caterpillars and insects when raising their young, including hummingbirds. Good acorn crops on this long-lived tree are infrequent, but the sweet nuts are eaten by wildlife and humans when available.
Chestnut oaks will sprout new seedlings from stumps; in fact, many of the chestnut oaks that sprout in the Appalachian Mountains have grown from the stumps leftover from heavy logging.
In Ohio, chestnut oak grows mostly in the eastern portion of the state, in the Appalachian highlands. Used primarily as a shade tree in residential areas and parks.
Grows 60-70’ tall and wide in drier conditions with poor soil. Can double its height in moist, rich soil.
Thrives in full to part sun, but shade tolerant when young.
Prefers acidic, moist, well-drained soil but is exceptionally adaptable to alkaline and dry, rocky soils. Tolerates drought when established.
Pollen-bearing male catkins fertilize small female flowers in mid-spring. Shiny, brown acorns topped with a scaly cap that covers half the nut grow annually in pairs.
Foliage unfurls yellow-bronze, gradually becoming thick, obovate-shaped, 4-8” leaves with dark green surfaces and pale green undersides coated with downy hairs. Margins are coarsely serrated with rounded teeth. The leaves turn yellowish-green in summer and change to yellow-brown in fall.
Bark is smoother and lighter gray in youth. Mature bark is gray and has triangular ridges with deep furrows. Branches and twigs are stout, and they quickly develop thick, fissured bark.
Oaks are a host plant for 477 species of lepidoptera larvae in central Ohio, including the red-spotted admiral butterfly, and regal and great leopard moths. Though oak trees are wind-pollinated, the male catkins are a rich source of pollen in spring, enticing hungry pollinators emerging from their over-wintering sites. The acorns are an important food for deer, rabbits, turkeys, foxes, gray squirrels, flying squirrels, chipmunks, voles, and mice. Birds that feed on acorns include wild turkey, bobwhite quail, wood ducks, mallards, woodpeckers, crows, and jays. The leaves, twigs, and young shoots of oaks provide browse for deer and rabbits, especially during times of food scarcity.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Infusions from the bark can help with stomach upset and vomiting. Galls produced on the tree have astringent properties. Infusions from the galls can be used to control bleeding and in the treatment of diarrhea.
The acorns usually need to be leached of the bitter tannins before consumption, and can be made into acorn flower and used in baked goods for increased protein. Chestnut acorns, like others in the white oak group, contain less tannins and can sometimes be eaten raw or with none to minimal leaching. To leach the tannins, soak acorns in water and discard the water each time it turns brown until the water stays clear. Boiling the acorns during this process can speed it along.
Chestnut oak is high-quality timber, similar to and sold as white oak. It’s an excellent fuel source and is also used for fencing and railway ties.
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