Herbs & Plants

Castanea pumila

Botanical Name: Castanea pumila
Family: Fagaceae
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Fagales
Genus: Castanea
Species: C. pumila

Common Names: Chinquapin, Ozark chinkapin, Allegheny chinquapin, American chinquapin (from the Powhatan) or Dwarf chestnut

Habitat: Castanea pumila is native to Eastern N. America – New Jersey and Pennsylvania to Florida, Missouri and Texas. 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.

Castanea pumila is a spreading shrub or small tree, reaching 2–8 m (6 ft 7 in–26 ft 3 in) 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 (3–5 7?8 in) long by 3–5 cm (1 1?4–2 in) 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 (4–6 in) long attached to the base of each leaf. Female flowers are 3 mm (0.12 in) long and are located at the base of some catkins. The fruit is a golden-colored cupule 2–3 cm (3?4–1 1?4 in) in diameter with many sharp spines, maturing in autumn. Each cupule contains one ovoid shiny dark brown nut that is edible. A natural hybrid of Castanea pumila and Castanea dentata has been named Castanea × neglecta.

Prefers a good well-drained slightly acid loam but succeeds in dry soils. Once established, it is very drought tolerant. Very tolerant of highly acid, infertile dry sands. Averse to calcareous soils but succeeds on harder limestones. This species is an excellent soil-enriching understorey in pine forests, growing and fruiting well so long as the canopy of pines is fairly light. Although it is very winter-hardy, this species only really thrives in areas with hot summers. The young growth in spring, even on mature plants, is frost-tender and so it is best to grow the plants in a position sheltered from the early morning sun. Plants can spread widely by means of underground suckers. Flowers are produced on wood of the current year’s growth. Plants are fairly self-sterile. They hybridize freely with other members of this genus. Fruits are produced in 2 – 3 years from seed. One report says that plants never fruit in Britain, but a 2 metre tall plant at Wisley fruits most years. Trees on our Cornish trial grounds produced a few female flowers when 1 metre tall and 4 years old. This species is occasionally cultivated for its edible seed in N. America, there are some named varieties. The plants produce seeds abundantly in the wild. The sub-species C. pumila ashei. Sudw. (Zone 7) is a coastal form, found from Virginia to Texas. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus. The plant is heat tolerant in zones 9 through 5. (Plant Hardiness Zones show how well plants withstand cold winter temperatures. Plant Heat Zones show when plants would start suffering from the heat. The Plant Heat Zone map is based on the number of “heat days” experienced in a given area where the temperature climbs to over 86 degrees F (30°C). At this temperature, many plants begin to suffer physiological damage. Heat Zones range from 1 (no heat days) to 12 (210 or more heat days). For example Heat Zone. 11-1 indicates that the plant is heat tolerant in zones 11 through 1.) For polyculture design as well as the above-ground architecture (form – tree, shrub etc. and size shown above) information on the habit and root pattern is also useful and given here if available. The plant growth habit is multistemmed with multiple stems from the crown . The root pattern is flat with shallow roots forming a plate near the soil surface . The root pattern is a heart root, dividing from the crown into several primary roots going down and out . The root pattern is suckering with new plants from underground runners away from the plant .

Edible Uses:
Seed – raw or cooked. Sweet with a nice nutty flavour, it is very acceptable raw and has a superior flavour to sweet chestnuts (C. sativa). When baked it becomes even sweeter and develops a floury texture, it makes an excellent potato or cereal substitute.The seed is quite small, about 2cm thich, which is about half the size of C. dentata. It is sold in local markets in America. The seed husks only contain one (rarely two) seed. The seed contains 45% starch and 2.5% protein.

Medicinal Uses:
The leaves contain tannin and are antiperiodic, astringent and tonic. An infusion of the leaves has been used as an external wash for the feverish condition common to colds.

Other Uses:
The bark, leaves, wood and seed husks all contain tannin. Wood – coarse-grained, hard, strong, light, durable, easy to split. It weighs 37lb per cubic foot. Too small for commercial use, but it is occasionally used for fence posts, fuel etc.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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