How to Recognize It
This natural community at Rock Creek Park is easy to spot because of the abundance of chestnut oak and near absence of American beech. The understory can be an almost continuous layer of mountain laurel, an evergreen shrub in the heath family. You’ll find the Chestnut Oak / Mountain Laurel Forest on or near ridgetops and hilltops where the soil is dry, acidic, and infertile. In Rock Creek Park, this natural community grows on coarse soil, over ancient river deposits of cobbles, gravels and sand that cap some ridges in the park. Listen to a podcast about this natural community.
Can you find this combination of key features?
Identifying This Natural Community
- Old-age chestnut oak in the forest canopy
- Near-absence of other oaks and American beech
- Chestnut oak seedlings on the forest floor
- Twisted, dark stems of tall mountain laurel shrub in the understory (look for their pink blooms in early summer)
- Acorns over an inch long
- Cobbles (rounded, potato-sized stones) at the base of large trees where erosion and frost action have exposed them
- Location: a hilltop or upper slope
If so, welcome to Rock Creek Park’s Chestnut Oak / Mountain Laurel Forest!
Not sure? Check out Tips to Distinguish (below), or try the Compare Natural Communities tool in the right sidebar.