Ok, so a chestnut oak isn’t the most spectacular tree in the forest, but because of its high tannin content it was important in the tanning industry which thrived here a century ago. So there.
The chestnut oak (Quercus prinus) belongs to the same family, the beech family, as does the chestnut tree, but it is not in same genus. Called one of the more visually appealing oaks by the University of Connecticut Plant Database, the chestnut oak provides shelter and food for wildlife within its range. Landscapers take advantage of its ability to sustain itself in poor quality soil.
The range of the chestnut oak consists of southern parts of New England, eastern New York, New Jersey, Delaware and most of Pennsylvania. The tree’s range extends westward to eastern Ohio, southern Indiana, Kentucky, much of Tennessee and northern Alabama. All of West Virginia and western sections of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina are within this tree’s geographic distribution. The chestnut oak survives in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8.
Chestnut oaks are large trees, growing to between 60 and 70 feet, with some getting as big as 100 feet high, notes the Missouri Botanical Garden. The tree has a dense growth of branches, with foliage resembling that of the chestnut tree. The leaves are as long as 8 inches, as wide as 4 inches and feature wavy edges with rounded teeth on both sides. The shiny green leaves turn to shades of brownish-yellow in autumn. The acorns of a chestnut oak are dark brown, with the cap covering as much as half the acorn. The bark has many dark, deep furrows and is a dark shade of gray, giving the oak ornamental value in winter.
Although the chestnut oak grows best when located in soil that is damp, rich and with solid draining qualities, it handles drier, rocky sites with little problem. It grows to its largest sizes in fertile ground, but in the wild, it often develops in sandy or gravelly ground. One of the more problem-free oaks to transplant, the chestnut oak requires full sun. A spot that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight a day is suitable for the tree.
Since the chestnut oak has the ability to spread out as wide as it is tall, it needs to be in a spot where it has room to develop. It is an excellent shade or lawn tree for open landscapes, as well as a tree appropriate for planting in parks. The chestnut oak is a long-lived species and it is usually maintenance free. The wood has great value and at one time, the bark of the chestnut oak, because of its high volume of a compound called tannin, was vital in the process of tanning leather, according to the “National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees: Eastern Region.”