golden chinquapin


Chrysolepis is a small genus in the beech family Fagaceae, endemic to the western United States, occurring from western Washington south to southern California. They are evergreen trees and shrubs with simple, entire (untoothed) leaves with a dense layer of golden scales on the underside (hence the genus name, from Greek chryso-, yellow, and lepis, scale) and a thinner layer on the upper side; the leaves persist for 3-4 years before falling. The fruit is a densely spiny cupule containing usually three sweet, edible nuts.

Chrysolepis is related to the subtropical southeast Asian genus Castanopsis (in which it was formerly included), but differs in the nuts being triangular and fully enclosed in a sectioned cupule, and in having bisexual catkins. Chrysolepis also differs from another allied genus Castanea (chestnuts), in nuts that take 14-16 months to mature (3-5 months in Castanea), evergreen leaves and the shoots having a terminal bud.

There are two species of Chrysolepis, which like many species in the related genera of Castanopsis and Castanea are called "chinquapin" (also spelt "chinkapin").

The golden chinquapin or giant chiquapin (Chrysolepis chrysophylla) is a tree reaching 20-40 m tall, or sometimes a shrub 3-10 m tall. It occurs in coastal areas of the Pacific Coast Ranges from Washington (near Seattle) south to San Luis Obispo, but also with a small disjunct population in the Sierra Nevada east of Sacramento. It grows at lower elevations, from sea level to 1,500 m, rarely 2,000 m. The leaves are 6-12 cm long, with an acute (sharp-pointed) apex. The bark is thick and rough.

The bush chinquapin (Chrysolepis sempervirens) is a shrub only 1-2 m tall. It occurs in interior southwest Oregon and California, in the Klamath Mountains, Sierra Nevada and San Jacinto Mountains. It grows mostly at high elevation, 1,000-3,000 m altitude. The leaves are smaller, 4-8 cm long, with an obtuse (blunt-pointed or rounded) apex. The bark is thin and smooth.

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