| Leaves and flowers of Allegheny Chinkapin|
Leaves and flowers of Allegheny Chinkapin
| Castanea pumila|
The Allegheny Chinkapin (American Chinkapin, Dwarf chestnut, Castanea pumila) is a species of chestnut native to the eastern United States from southern New Jersey and Pennsylvania south to central Florida, west to eastern Texas, and north to southern Missouri and Kentucky. The plant's habitat is dry sandy and rocky uplands and ridges mixed with oak and hickory to 1000 m elevation. It grows best on well-drained soils in full sun or partial shade.
It is a spreading shrub or small tree, reaching 2-8 m in height at maturity. The bark is red- or gray-brown and slightly furrowed into scaly plates. The leaves are simple, narrowly elliptical or lanceolate, yellow-green above and paler and finely hairy on the underside. Each leaf is 7.5-15 cm long by 3-5 cm wide with parallel side veins ending in short pointed teeth. The flowers are monoecious and appear in early summer. Male flowers are small and pale yellow to white, borne on erect catkins 10-15 cm long attached to the base of each leaf. Female flowers are 3 mm long and are located at the base of some catkins. The fruit is a golden-colored cupule 2-3 cm in diameter with many sharp spines, maturing in autumn. Each cupule contains one ovoid shiny dark brown nut that is edible.
The Allegheny Chinkapin is closely related to the American Chestnut Castanea dentata, and both trees can be found in the same habitat. Allegheny Chinkapin can be distinguished by its smaller nut (half the size of a chestnut) that is not flattened (chestnuts are flattened on one side). The leaves of the Allegheny Chinkapin are smaller than the American Chestnut and have less distinct teeth. Allegheny Chinkapin, however, is less susceptible the chestnut blight fungus that devastated the American Chestnut. While the chinkapin does blight to some degree, it continues to send out suckers that will produce fruit. Chinkapins are quite vulnerable nevertheless, and there are many reports of heavily diseased and cankered trees.
John Smith of Jamestown made the first record of the tree and its nuts in 1612, observing its use by the Native Americans. Native Americans made an infusion of chinkapin leaves to relieve headaches and fevers. The bark, leaves, wood, and seed husks of the plant contain tannin. The wood is hard and durable and is sometimes used in fences and fuel, but the plant is too small for the wood to be of commercial importance.
- Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1980. ISBN 0-394-50760-6.
- Allegheny Chinkapin Plant Fact Sheet - NRCS
- Chinkapin: Potential New Crop for the South
- Castanea pumila - Plants For A Future database report
- VT Dendrology - includes pictures of leaves, flowers, and fruit
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