Leaves of a Chestnut Oak at the WVBG changing color this fall.

Photo by Erin Smaldone.

I recently had a young visitor ask me what kind of tree produced the prolific number of large acorns found in the Garden this year. The acorn in question was from one of the many Chestnut Oaks (Quercus prinus) that grow abundantly here.
The oaks at the WVBG are currently producing a tremendous number of acorns. There are so many that they can act like ball bearings underfoot. The many creatures that live here; turkey, other birds, bear, squirrel and chipmunk are all feasting and fattening up on the sweet meat of this fruit. Chestnut Oak is also known as the Rock Oak and Basket Oak, as the wood is cut into billets from which strips are pulled for weaving baskets. This work needs to be done while the wood is freshly cut so that it is pliable and supple. Baskets made from Oak are strong and enduring. They are often handed down over generations.

When I first moved to West Virginia, I was a homesteader of sorts, and spent a number of years building a home from scratch. I walked the woods of our 75-acre farm and selected timber to be felled and hauled to the saw mill. Like much of West Virginia, our forest had many species to choose from, including several Oak. The weight of the Oak beams taxed my strength but made for a beautiful home.

The Chestnut Oak was a relatively new species to me. The leaf caught my attention as it is oblong and somewhat toothed, not the leaf shape a novice associates with an Oak. In the spring its buds have a reddish tone and can be confused with those of the Red Oak. Michael Dirr in his tome, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, mentions that the National champion in North Port, New York reaches to a height of 95 feet with a spread of over 80 feet. We’re talking about a giant of a tree. Here at the Garden it dominates the dryer, rocky slopes. The furrows of its bark are quite deep. Its bark contains more tannin than any other species of Quercus. Micheal Dirr also mentions that this tree is relatively easy to transplant and should be considered for the landscape. It is found native from Maine to Alabama.


by Bill Mills, Executive Director

originally published in our Winter 2018 newsletter

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