Tree Spotlight: Chestnut Oak

This blog starts a new monthly tree spotlight series. Each month, I will highlight a species of tree, including how to identify it, photos, and details on Vermont’s champion tree. I’ve decided to start the series off by highlighting the Society of Municipal Arborists’ 2017 ‘Urban Tree of the Year’, the chestnut oak (Quercus montana or Q. prinus). The chestnut oak is native to much of the eastern United States, and is beginning to trend as a choice tree for urban environments; as it is pH adaptable, requires minimal pruning, tolerant of dry soils and drought, and tends to be free of major pests or diseases. In natural areas, it grows in dry rocky soils on ridgetops, although it also thrives in moist well-drained soils, and in shallow soils which make it tolerant of urban conditions. It can grow large, with a crown spread of 70 feet or more so give it room to grow like open green spaces, wide medians, or large beds.

The big tree program is a national program that tracks and records the biggest trees of each species around the country. The Vermont big tree program is based on the national program and the score is made up of 3 measurements: height, crown width, and circumference at breast height. The current champion chestnut oak is in Pawlet, Vermont. The last time it was measured in 2003 its height was 64 feet, had an average crown spread of 62.8 feet, and a circumference at breast height of 18 feet 9 inches.

Identification:

Common names: chestnut oak, rock oak, rock chestnut oak, mountain oak

Height: 50-70 feet

Hardiness Zone: 4-8

Leaf: arrangement on branches is alternate, it is generally 4-8 inches long, it is obovate (egg-shaped) in shape, green above and pale below, fall foliage is brownish yellow

Flowers: monoecious, which means it has both male and female reproductive parts; female flowers are reddish-brown and develop in spring time at bud break, they are small and appear as single spikes, male flowers are yellow-green, 2 to 4 inches long, and hang down from branches.

Fruit: Acorns are produced, they are 1 to 1 ½ inches long and are obovate in shape, they separate from the cap when mature, and mature in one growing season dropping from the tree in early September to early October. The acorns are a good source of food for wildlife including gray squirrel, black bear, and white-tail deer.

Twig: lightly textured, orange-brown or grayish in color, with multiple terminal buds that are pointed and conical.

Bark: Grey to grey-brown in color, smooth when young, mature bark is deeply furrowed, and has blocky barked trunks.

 

Sources

New York State Urban Forestry Council

USDA

Virginia Tech 

USDA Forest Service 

University of Florida: Environmental Horticulture Department 

Photo (c) 2002 Steven J. Baskauf 

2120009 Wendy VanDyk Evans, Bugwood.org

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