Allegheny Chinquapin (Chinkapin) (Castanea pumila) also known as the American chinquapin or dwarf chestnut, 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.
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.
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 chinquapin is found in dry sandy woods and thickets from southern New Jersey and Pennsylvania, west to Indiana and Missouri , and south to Florida and Texas. It is usually ready for harvest in early September. Harvest must be prompt to gather nuts before wildlife (birds and small mammals) remove the entire crop.
Chinquapins are quite susceptible to Phytophthora cinnamoni root rot, so it is best to grow in well drained soil. Because of this root rot problem create a soil around the plant akin to its native habitat. Sod around the plant should be avoided. Stay away from a golf course mentality. Let the fall leaves stay under the chinquapin. Adding some top soil from the woods (around a gallon pot full) may help introduce beneficial organisms for the chinquapin. These preventive measures may help the plants natural defenses.
From present indications this tree will be well worthy of cultivation as an ornamental shade tree or bush. Even if we leave out of the account its rapid growth, productiveness, and delicious little nuts, which will be very acceptable for home use, if not possessing any great commercial value.
Allegheny Chinquapin became famous from the writings of Thomas Ash, in his Description of Carolina, said of the Chinquapin: “Of the Kernel is made Chocolate, not much inferiour to that made of the Cacoa.”
The nuts should fall out of the burrs when they become ripe. Roast them like chestnuts.
The nuts of the Allegheny Chinquapin are said to taste very similar to Chocolate when roasted like a Chestnut.
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.
Where Does Allegheny Chinquapin (Castanea Pumila) Grow?
How To Identify Allegheny Chinquapin (Castanea Pumila)
Alternate, simple, oblong to lanceolate, 3 to 6 inches long, pinnately veined, coarsely toothed margin, green above and much lighter and fuzzy below.
Monoecious; male flowers are small and pale yellow, borne on semi-upright catkins 4 to 6 inches long; female flowers are borne on the base of some of the same catkins, 1/8 inch long, appear in late spring.
Small, bur covered with sharp spines, 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter, often the burs occur in clusters on stems; each bur contains a single, shiny chestnut brown, ovoid nut. Nuts are edible and quite sweet when mature in the fall.
Slender to moderate, reddish brown, often with gray fuzz; buds are also gray-brown and fuzzy, covered with 2 to 3 visible bud scales.
Light, reddish brown in color, shallowly furrowed with scaly plates on large stems.
A large shrub or small tree up to 25 feet tall that can form dense thickets when growing in bright sunshine.