Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Chestnuts


A small genus of 12 deciduous ( evergreen in related Castanopsis ) long lived ( before the Blight ) trees that are relatives of the Oak. They are highly valued as a food crop and for their lumber which is very rot resistant. They wood is used for telephone poles, construction and fences. They may be coppiced to produce poles.
The wood makes excellent firewood however such use is a waste considering they equal the Oaks for quality of timber.
The Chestnuts prefer hot summers, full sun and moist, deep, well drained, slightly acidic, fertile soil. Propagation is typically from seed sown 2 inches deep as soon as ripened. Chestnuts should be planted out in their permanent place when very young since older trees do not transplant well. The seedlings quickly develop a deep taproot which makes them difficult to move. When young; they are best pruned a single leader and feathered; space and shorten main limbs.

Castanea ashei ( Florida Chinkapin )
From the southern U.S.on the Coastal Plain from Louisiana to around Norfolk, Va; the Coastal Chinkapin is very similar to Castanea pumila except with bracts that are less densely spiny. Some records include: 33 years - 41 feet; largest ever recorded - 60 x 65 feet with a trunk diameter of 3 feet.
Hardy north to zone 7

Castanea crenata ( Japanese Chestnut )
Native to most of Japan, the Japanese Chestnut typically forms a moderate growing tree to about 30 or 40 feet in size. Under ideal conditions; it can grow much faster and larger to a record of 100 x 120 feet with a trunk diameter of 7.7 feet. Normally it grows to about 30 feet in 20 years and 60 feet in 50 years. A very large tree grows at Longwood Gardens near Philadelphia, PA. Very long-lived, it can persist for as long as 800 years. An excellent, timber tree that is not prone to Chestnut Blight.
The coarsely-toothed leaves are similar to Castanea mollissima but only reach up to 5 inches in length and are narrower. The foliage is deep shiny green above and hairy, blue-green beneath.
The white flowers appear during early to mid summer.
They are followed by fruits up to 0.8 inches wide. Nut bearing on good sites begins in about 6 years.
The bark is blackish-brown.
Hardy zones 4 to 9 in full sun on fertile, well drained soil.

* photos taken on Nov 30 2016 in Howard Co., MD

* photos taken on May 27 2017 @ Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, Vienna, VA

'Sleeping Giant'
a hybrid with Castanea dentata

Castanea dentata ( American Chestnut )
Among the largest of deciduous hardwoods, the American Chestnut easily exceeds 100 feet with a trunk diameter over 5 feet with a broad rounded crown. It is also very fast growing and some records include: 2nd year - 5 feet; 20 years - trunk diameter of 14 inches; largest ever reported - 200 x 100 feet with trunk diameter of 20 feet. This tree produced decent lumber in as little as 15 years! It was extremely abundant within its native range which was from southeast Michigan to Grand Bend, Ontario to Toronto, Ontario to northern Vermont to Maine; south to Mississippi to central Georgia. In the Windsor/Essex County, Ontario region; it was abundant in Windsor, western and southern Essex County as well as the Ohio shore during the 1800s.
The foliage is similar to Castanea sativa but is narrower and hairless, reaching up to 12 x 4 inches. They are dull dark green above and paler green below.
The smooth, foliage turns to orange in the fall but earlier than C. mollissima.
The flowers are borne in creamy yellow catkins up to 10 inches in length.
The American Chestnut can bear nuts in as early as 4 years from seed.
Each spiny husk up to 3 inches across contain 2 or 3 nuts up to an inch across. Grown from seed; the American Chestnut can produce a significant harvest of nuts in 15 years.
The ebible nuts are very nutritious being high in carbs ( 40 % ), Vitamin C, Iron and Phosphorus, they have about 1000 calories per pound. They are the only nuts that contain Vitamin C. The fruits are produced abundantly yearly and an acre of mature Chestnut may be even more productive than an acre of wheat. The fruit don't taste very good raw but are sweet tasting after being roasted. The nuts can be punctured ( so they don't blow up ) then cooked for 20 minutes at 400 degrees in the stove.
The bark is red-brown and smooth on young trees breaking up into flat, broad, scaly ridges on older trees. This tree was formerly valued for its extremely tough, decay free lumber.
It is hardy from zone 4 to 9; tolerating as low as -33 F.
this tree is very drought tolerant and its roots can permeate as deep as 30 feet in brick clay.
American Chestnut was at one time the most abundant and valuable tree in the eastern U.S., making 25 % of all hardwoods and 40 % in some areas. It grows in all soils except limestone and swamp muck. Deer, bear, squirrels, chipmunks, wild turkey, bobwhite quail and passenger pigeons ( now extinct ) eat the nuts. People used the rot resistant wood for fence posts, rails and utility poles. Tasty to humans too, this tree being the sweetest of all Chestnuts was once widely grown for its edible nuts.
It is now rare to endangered in all its native range due to being ravaged by Chestnut Blight, a bark fungal disease which as accidently introduced to North America early in the 1900s. By 1937 - 99% of the American Chestnut on the North American continent were already ripped off the face of the earth. The American Chestnut can sucker from cut trees; some sucker sprouts still grow from trees that died decades ago. The American Chestnut is federally endangered in Canada with it's population of 0.5 million trees wiped out. In the U.S. 4 billion trees were wiped out by this fungal disease.
Recently a weakened form of Chestnut Blight emerged. It infects the normal robust form with a virus weakening it so that the tree can wall off the invading fungus behind new bark tissue. Scientist are working on spreading this.
Even before Chestnut Blight, another accidently introduced fungus ( Phytophora cinnamoni ) wiped out a large portion of Chestnut across the lowland south, however spared populations in the mountains and north of central Virgiania. These populations helped the economies of many rural communities until wiped out by the Chestnut Blight.

* photos taken on April 30 in Howard County, MD

* historical photos found on internet

* photo taken by L.F. Kellogg @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

* photos taken by E.R. Mosher @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

* photo taken by R. Zon @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database


* photo taken by John Foley @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

* photo taken by W.D. Brush @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
* photos taken by Doug Goldman @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA-NRCS-NPDT

* photo taken on 4th of July 2010 in Washington, D.C.

* photo taken on May 18 2013 in Columbia, MD
* photos taken on Aug 4 2013 in Bayfield, Ontario

* photos taken on May 30 2015 in Columbia, MD

* photos taken Aug 2016 @ Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, MD

* historical archive photos

A hybrid with the blight resistant C. mollissima.

* photo taken on Oct 17 2017 in Howard Co., MD

Castanea henryi ( Henry Chestnut )
Growing into one of the Worlds largest ( and also very rare ) decidious hardwood trees, the Henry Chinkapin is an Asian relative of the once near equally massive but now mostly extinct American Chestnut. The Henry Chinkapin however is resistant to the Chestnut Blight that killed off our native trees in the early to mid 1900s. It is hardy from zones 4 to 8 and actually prefers hot humid summers and is very drought tolerant. It grows well on any well drained soil. This tree though most people never heard of it makes for an excellent shade tree in the Mid Atlantic, Midwest and Deep South. Though not much research has been done on this tree, it has grown to 21 feet in 6 years in the Mid Atlantic region of the U.S. In the wild before Asia's ecosystems were trashed from logging, this tree reached heights up to 240 feet. Likely just as with the American Chestnut, some trees reached over 12 feet in trunk diameter and ages of 600 years. The Henry Chinkapin typically grows with a tall straight symettrical trunk.
The lance-shaped leaves, reach up to 9 x 2.5 inches in size. The very attractive foliage is deep green.

* photo taken Feb 2009 @ U.S. National Arboretum

* photos taken on May 1 2010 @ U.S. National Arboretum, D.C.

* photo taken on 4th of July 2010 @ U.S. National Arboretum, D.C.

* photos taken on July 17 2010 @ Morris Arboretum, Philly, PA

* photos taken on Sep 3 2017 @ U.S. National Arboretum, D.C.

* photos taken on Oct 17 2013 in Howard Co., MD

Castanea mollissima ( Chinese Chestnut )
Native to central & eastern China & Korea. The Chinese Chestnut is typically a fast growing rounded canopy tree reaching around 60 feet in size. Much larger on ideal sites; some records include: 20 years - 60 x 40 feet; largest on record - 100 x 100 feet with trunk diameter of 5 feet.
The leaves are short stalked unlike Castanea sativa. They are toothed, ovate or oblong and up to 9 x 3.5 inches in size. The foliage reddish at first, turning deep green above and felted & sometimes white below. This tree is late leafing out in spring and it's foliage turns to yellow or bronze during autumn.
The creamy-yellow flowers are borne in slender, upright, catkins up to 10 inches long in early summer.
The shoots are persistantly downy and the bark is brown and while smooth when young, it becomes fissured with age
This tree is cultivated widely for its glossy, red-brown edible nuts that are borne in spiny husks up to 2 inches across.. Some trees have been known to yield as much as 323 pounds of nuts in a year and a healty tree should bear 100 ibs or slightly
The Chinese Chestnut is not prone to Chestnut Blight and has therefore mostly replaced Castanea dentata in the U.S. It is also a valuable ornamental and shade tree and is often found planted on farmsteads.
Hardy zones 5 to 9 ( zone 4 or -30 F for 'Millers Manchurian' which would probably thrive in the Ottawa Valley in Canada )

* taken @ Green Spring Gardens, Annandale, VA on Oct 2001

* photo taken on May 1 2010 in Howard County, MD

* photos taken on May 16 2010 @ Cylburn Arboretum, Baltimore, MD

* photos taken on Aug 20 2011 @ Audubon Sanctuary, Montgomery Co, MD

* photos taken on June 7 2012 in Howard Co., MD
* photo taken on July 9 2013 in Columbia, MD

* photos taken on Oct 17 2013 @ Agricultural History Farm Park, Olney, MD

* photos taken on June 18 2014 in Columbia, MD

* photos taken on May 27 2017 @ Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, Vienna, VA

* photos taken on Aug 13 2017 @ Howard Comm. College, Columbia, MD

'Millers Manchurian'
A full zone hardier; tolerating as low as -30 F. Completely disease free; it is a hybrid with C. dentata and it's fruit has the sweet flavor of the American Chestnut. It is more vigorous than either parent.

Castanea ozarkensis ( Ozark Chinkapin )
Similar to Castanea pumila except that it is native to the Ozark Mountains in the south-central U.S. ( from central Oklahoma to southern Missouri; south to Louisiana to Alabama ). A moderate growing, small tree typically reaching around 30 feet; on the best of sites it can grow much larger with the largest recorded size being 80 x 40 feet with a trunk diameter of 5 feet.
The coarsely-toothed, elliptical leaves are up to 9 inches or very rarely 11 x 4 inches on vigorous shoots. The foliage is deep green above and blue-green below.
Hardy zones 6 to 8 ( may prove hardier with additional testing ). Having been devestated by Chestnut Blight; few tree size Ozark Chinkapins remain.

Castanea pumila ( Alleghany Chinkapin )
Native to the southern & eastern U.S. ( from Arkansas to southern Missouri to southern Ohio to Massachusetts; south to eastern Texas to northern Florida ). The Alleghany Chinkapin is a moderate growing, dense canopied tree to 75 feet. Some records include: 2 years - 6 x 3.3 feet; 5 years - 9 x 8 feet; 6 year nut yield - 1500 nuts; 30 years - 43 feet with a trunk diameter of 18 inches; largest recorded - 120 x 60 feet with a trunk diameter of 4.5 feet.
The leaves are glossy dark green above, furry and white beneath; they are up to 8.5 x 3.2 inches in size. They are not tapered as sharply as the American Chestnut and color from yellow to purple in autumn.
The young shoots are downy.
Flower catkins, up to 7 inches in length, are pale yellow. The flowers are borne during early summer.
The husks are 1 to 1.5 inches wide and contain only 1 nut up to 0.8 inches across.
The nuts are edible and sweet tasting. They are also very nutritious just like Castanea dentata but are much smaller.
The bark is reddish to gray-brown. The wood is similar to that of Castanea dentata but most trees seen these days are not of harvestable size.
Hardy zones 5 to 9 ( tolerating -30 F ) in full sun on dryish, fertile, well drained soil. The Alleghany Chinkapin is found on drier upland sites in the wild. It is much less prone to Chestnut Blight than Castanea dentata.

* photos taken @ U.S. Botanical Garden, Wash., DC on Aug 25 2014

* photos taken on Sep 16 2016 @ Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, MD

* photo taken on Sep 25 2016 near Reisterstown, MD

* historical archive photo

* photo taken by W.D. Brush @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

text coming soon

* Photo courtesy of USDA NRCS.

Castanea sativa ( Sweet Chestnut )
Native to mountain forests of southern Europe ( naturalized as far north as the Netherlands & Poland ), western Asia and north Africa. It is a fast growing, round-canopied tree reaching up to 100 feet. Some records include: fastest growth rate - trunk diameter increase of 1 inch per year; 20 years - 82 x 50 feet; 157 years- trunk diameter of 6.6 feet; largest ever recorded - 160 x 120 feet with a trunk diameter of 17 feet. A tree with a trunk diameter of 32 feet once grew at Mt. Etna, Italy. The Sweet Chestnut can live up to 1000 years in age.
The coarsely bristle-toothed, taper-pointed, oblong leaves, are up to 12 inches in length ( record leaf size - 18 x 4 inches ). The foliage is glossy, deep green above and paler as well as slightly furry below. The foliage turns to orange late during autumn.
The yellow-green flower catkins, up to 13 inches long, put on an attractive display during mid-summer.
The edible nuts are an important crop in many countries and are excellent roasted over an open fire. The Sweet Chestnut typically bears nuts in 15 years though sometimes as early as 7.
The glossy, red-brown nuts are borne in spiny husks up to 2.5 inches across.
The Sweet Chestnut once formed the economy of many hilly areas around the Mediterranean.
The fissured bark is gray-brown.
Hardy zones 5 to 8. This Chestnut IS prone to Chestnut Blight but not as bad as Castanea dentata.

* photos found on internet

* photos taken by Milan Havlis, owner of central Europe's premier plant nursery

* historical archive photos

* video found on Youtube

Dark green foliage that is margined creamy white. Flowers catkins are creamy yellow.
The foliage turns to yellow in autumn.

* photo taken by Milan Havlis, owner of central Europe's premier plant nursery

leaves have yellow margins

Castanea sequinii
A small tree, reaching up to 40 feet or very rarely 60 feet with a trunk diameter up to 27 inches, that is native to much of central and southern China.
The obovate leaves are up to 6 inches in length. The foliage is downy gray to tawny-brown below.
The flowers are borne on inflorescences during early summer.
The nuts, up to 0.8 inches wide, ripen during early to mid-autumn. It is sometimes grown for the edible nuts.
Hardy zones 6 to 9 and is NOT prone to Chestnut Blight.

* photos taken on October 17 2010 @ U.S. National Arboretum, D.C.

* photos taken on May 27 2017 @ Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, Vienna, VA


  1. Interesting article on the net on Bringing Back The Chestnut!

  2. Much more info on the American Chestnut

  3. The Bayfield "chest​n​ut" looks like Shellbark​ Hickory.​ Mistake??