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Scientific name: Anthophyta: Dicotyledonae: Fagales: Fagaceae: Castanea dentata
Common Name: Information Sheet, American Chestnut

Country: USA
State/District: VW
County: Tucker
Date (D-M-Y): 23 - 9 - 2001

Photographer: E. M. Barrows

Identifier: E. M. Barrows
Collector: not applicable
Location: WV: Tucker County
Keywords: A brown fruit FEFT Fetr green fruit information sheet white flowers tree
Additional Information:

Figures 1–5.   Views of a stump sprout of American Chestnut in West Virginia.

To see other pages on chestnuts, please enter “Castanea” in the box on the homepage of this Website and click.

Information Sheet, American Chestnut

Castanea dentata (Humphrey Marshall) Borkhausen, Castanea vesca americana Michaux, C. sativa americana Sargent, Châtaignier d'Amérique (in Quebec), American Chestnut, Chestnut.
[Greek castanea, chestnut; dentata, toothed, referring to teeth on leaves of this species]
(Sutton & Sutton 1985, plate 85; Petrides 1988, plate 32)


Tree; up to 120 feet tall (e.g., in the Great Smoky Mountains, NC); often 60–100 feet tall as a mature tree.   This is a very handsome tree with broad, open crowns in large specimens.   Individual American Chestnuts can live hundreds of years.   Unfortunately individuals of this species are now usually only suckers from stumps and roots, less than 25 feet tall.   Leaves: large, simple, toothed, shiny.   Trunk: up to 4 feet in diameter.   Male flowers: showy, long, upright, fragrant catkins of whitish flowers which bloom in June in the Washington, D.C., Area.   In the U.S., blossoms occur in late spring and summer and are not killed by late frosts as can occur in oaks and other trees.   Fruit: a short stalked bur, up to 2.5 inches in diameter, covered with many sharp, stout branched spines; maturing in autumn and splitting open along 3-4 lines.   Each fruit has 2–3 chestnuts up to 0.75 inches long, broadly egg shaped, becoming shiny dark brown; autumn.   Chestnuts contain more starch and less oil than most other nuts, and have a special role as wildlife and human food for this reason (Davidson and Knox 1991, 134).   The European Chestnut (originally from western Asia) was formerly a staple food of great importance but is more of a luxury now.   Europeans have different names for the finer cultivated varieties.   French candy uses the top marrons (from Lyon) to make the famous marrons glacés.   Where can we get some?


Do not confuse these fruits with the poisonous seeds of Horse Chestnuts which look similar!

General roles in forests.

American Chestnuts are autotrophs that generally live in forests, forest edges, successional areas, and yards.   Many kinds of organisms consume dead and living American Chestnut fruits, leaves, roots, and stems.

Specific roles in forests.

This species was a highly common and dominant tree in U.S. eastern forests for centuries, probably millenia.

Leaf and stem feeders (parasites) include 2 aphid spp., 11 borer spp., 24+ fungus spp., the Japanese Beetle (a major pest of this tree), 13 moth spp., 7 scale spp., and 3 weevil spp. in the U.S. (Horst 1990, 591; Westcott 1973, 519).

Pollen and nectar feeders (parasites, pollinators, predators) include many kinds of arthropods that consume their nectar, pollen, or both; they include bee, beetle, butterfly, flower-fly, other fly, moth, and wasp spp.

This is a minor honey plant and pollen plant of Honey Bees in the continental U.S. (Pellett 1978).

Seed feeders (predators) include the Bobwhite, the Chestnut Weevil, Humans, squirrels, and the White-tailed Deer.   In 2000, I obtained about 30 Chinese Chestnuts from WV.   All of the nuts had Chestnut Weevils.   To stop damage from these beetles, freeze chestnuts for 24 hours or parboil them before use and storage (Lee and Lee 2000).

Mature American Chestnuts have nuts every year, being a dependable food for wildlife (Grimm 1957, 154).

Human Uses

Some people eat American Chestnut candy, flour, nuts (often roasted), soup, and stuffing (Peterson 1977, 202).   The nuts have a sweeter flavor than those from Chinese and European Chestnut trees (Lee and Lee 2000, D6).   People breed the later two species to produce larger nuts, and their flavor has suffered in the process.

We make home medicines from Chestnut leaves.

This tree was once the main domestic source of tannin.

We use(d) American Chestnut as an ornamental.   It is difficult to transplant and a rapid grower.

We make (mostly made) caskets, building interiors, cheap furniture, fences, musical instruments, posts, and railroad ties from its valuable wood.


Xylem: coarse grained, difficult to season, easily split, light, reddish brown, soft, straight rained, weak, very decay resistant in contact with soil.   Phloem: lighter colored than xylem.   Farrar (1995, 270) ranks this wood as moderately hard and strong.


American Chestnut was the queen of the eastern American forest trees (Grimm 1957, 154).   The tallest living American Chestnut grows by the North Fork of the Stilaguamish River, 40 miles north of Seattle, Washington (Gilbert 1996, 114).   This tree is 106 feet tall and has a 20-foot circumference and a branch spread of 101 feet.   People planted this species in the Northwest, and fortunately its parasitic fungus has not yet arrived there.

Brief History of American Chestnut in the U.S.

Thousands of years before 1950.   The American Chestnut was a common tree from ME through FL and west into the Ohio Valley.   In many forests it was about 20% of the trees.   Many of the dry ridge tops of the Central Appalachians were so thoroughly crowded with American Chestnut that, in early summer, when their canopies were filled with creamy-white flowers, the mountains appeared snow-capped.   People collected tons of nuts, ate them, feed them to their livestock, and sold them.

1904. People discovered Chestnut Blight, a fungus, Endothia parasitica (Murr.) A. & A., in American Chestnut trees in New York City.   This fungus is probably from Asia.

1904–1950.   Most of the American Chestnut trees (except for their stumps and sprouts) disappeared from about 9 million acres of eastern forests due to the Chestnut Blight.   This drastically changed many forests.   This tree was common in about 9 million acres of forest.   Suckers sprout from old stumps and roots, and can grow up to about 25 feet before they succumb to the fungus.   The roots are resistant to this pathogen.  

about 1904–2000.   People tried to produce a strain with blight-resistant and superior nuts.   They crossed American Chestnut with the Chinese Chestnut and other species.   Most attempts were futile.

1985–2000.   The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) has cultivated 8,000 trees on a research farm in Meadowview, VA, near the heart of American Chestnut’s former range, with the hope of breeding a Blight-resistant American Chestnut.   Researchers are growing hybrids of American Chestnut and Chinese Chestnuts (which are 15/16 American Chestnut and 1/16 CC).

2000.   Farmers are once again bringing the nuts of American Chestnut (in small quantities) to market places; the nuts are from presumed American Chestnuts and American Chestnut-EC hybrids (Lee and Lee 2000, D1).

2015.   The TACF expects to have commercially-available, blight-resistant American Chestnuts.

Other Notes

In WV where our Forest Ecology class studies American Chestnuts, root suckers flower and produce fruit, but are short lived.

There are large isolated trees that still survive and fruit in the U.S.   I visited a large, spreading tree near Pellston, MI (in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula) in 1978, which might still be alive.   Other large American Chestnuts live in northern Michigan at the periphery of the American Chestnut's original range.   A 30-foot American Chestnut grows at the Mohican Swimming Pool, Bethesda, MD.   It might have survived as a seedling during the great chestnut die off.   About 10 50-foot chestnut trees grow on Persimmon Tree Road, near Holly-leaf Road, Bethesda, MD.   These large surviving trees might be American Chestnuts that are resistant to the Chestnut Blight, have escaped it, or both.

Cultivated trees grow well in Western U.S. and other areas where this parasite is absent.   Researchers are developing hybrids between American and Chinese Chestnuts for ornament, shade, and wildlife.   Introducing a less virulent fungus strain might reduce American Chestnut damage by competing with the strain that is presently in North America.   American Chestnut might have been the most common tree species in PA (Grimm 1957, 154).

People call the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station after they find Chestnuts growing in the forest ( /chestnut/cnut4.html ).   Most of these trees are Asian species or Asian-American Chestnut hybrids.

Characters of nuts of American Chestnut (AC), Chinese Chestnut (CC), and European Chestnut (EC)

Black striped, sometimes: AC: no, CC: no; EC: yes
Hilum, faint starburst pattern: AC: yes, CC: no, EC: no
Percent fat: AC: 10, CC: ?, EC: 4
Pronounced point: AC: no; CC: no; EC: yes

hilum   n.   In American Chestnut, a tan patch on a nut’s shell where it was attached to its husk.

The Village Blacksmith

Under the spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands.
The smith a mighty man is he
with large and sinewy hands.
And the muscles on his brawny arms
are strong as iron bands.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1880s) ( )

Lee, Matt, and Ted Lee.   2000.   The faint taste of a lost harvest: Native Chestnuts. New York Times Northeast   4 October: D1, D6.

Endothia parasitica (Murr.) A. & A., the Chestnut Blight   n.   A fungus from Asia and Europe that causes a bark disease of Chestnuts (Bell and Lindsey 1990, 74).

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