Happy Oaktober y’all! While Fall Showstopper trees usually received the bulk of the attention this time of year (never mind about pumpkin everything), we’re spending this month with a forestry powerhouse: the official tree of the United States of America, the oak! Formally recognized in 2004 (!) Congress named the Oak tree as our national tree. No species, just the genus Quercus. DC was a bit ahead of the game and recognized a tree in 1960. Believe it or not, it’s not a cherry tree – the scarlet oak is our official tree since we can’t exactly have a state tree.
The chestnut oak, Quercus montana, is a beautiful shade tree with rich, dark leaves and bark that becomes deeply ridged with age. Its name is derived from its leaves that resemble those of a chestnut tree. Its oblong, toothed leaves turn orange-yellow or yellow-brown in fall. This upland tree is a member of the white oak group (oaks whose acorns mature in one summer and whose leaves do not have bristle tips, as is common in the red oak group).
Chestnut oaks do best in full sun and grow somewhat slowly – reaching 40 feet in anywhere from 40 to 50 years. They make sturdy city trees because they adapt well to poor soil conditions often found in our fair city of Washington, DC. In fact, its other common name rock oak is in reference to the ability of this tree to thrive in dry rocky soils. Historically, the heavy, durable, close-grained wood is used for fence posts, fuel, and railroad ties. Tannin extract (used in making processing leather) is also derived from chestnut oak wood.
Article photo of DC’s Champion Chestnut Oak courtesy John Maleri/Rock Creek Conservancy.