Chinese chestnuts for deer

I once interviewed a vegan-turned-meateater from San Diego. She and her boyfriend taught themselves how to hunt and over time came to know hunters for the first time in their lives. The former vegan was surprised and gratified by the amount of knowledge hunters she met had for wildlife biology and habitat, including nuanced knowledge about what each game species ate, their migration patterns, bedding tendencies and the natural strengths and weaknesses of each animal, like a wild turkey’s keen sight or a deer’s incredible sense of smell.

What she had hoped would be true was true: hunting was about way more than the kill shot. It’s mostly about living and how each animal does its living. And eating is living. When it comes to deer and eating then you can narrow it down a bit tighter. And for deer hunters, that should lead you to the chestnut: a deer superfood.

Related: When to Plant Chestnut Trees for Food Plots

Here are some quick facts about this mast-producing American icon.

1) The Nutritional Value of a Chestnut

Chestnuts are nutritionally superior to acorns, containing:

  • Approximately 40 percent carbohydrates compared to 10 percent for white oak acorns;
  • 10 percent protein compared to only 4 percent for white oak acorns;
  • 2 percent fat, compared to 10 percent in acorns.

2) The American Chestnut Tree is a Fast-Growing Tree

Chestnut trees grow faster and produce fruit at a much younger age, two to five years compared to as much as 20 years for some white oaks.

Related: Acorns: Why Do Deer Love These Nuts?

3) The Chestnut Tree Doesn’t Take a Year Off

Chestnut trees lack the cyclical nature of oaks and beech, bearing healthy mast crops annually. Another nice thing: they flower later in spring, thus avoiding late frosts that occasionally cause widespread acorn failures.

4) American Chestnut Trees Once Dominated the U.S. Landscape

More than a century ago, nearly 4 billion American chestnut trees were growing in the eastern U.S. They were among the largest, tallest and fastest-growing trees. The wood was rot-resistant, straight-grained and suitable for furniture, fencing and building.

Photo: Robert Llewellyn (American Forests)

5) Blight is Enemy No. 1

The American chestnut tree survived all adversaries for 40 million years, then disappeared within 40 years thanks to a blight fungus. The chestnut blight has been called the greatest ecological disaster to strike the world’s forests in all of history.

6) American Chestnut’s Comeback Season

Researchers have developed a blight-resistant hybrid of the chestnut tree dubbed the “Restoration” chestnut, according to

“Breeders feel they have a tree with enough of the Chinese chestnut’s natural blight resistance to have a shot at surviving; but also a tree that is virtually indistinguishable in form, growth rate and wood quality from a pure American chestnut.”

Approximately 15⁄16ths American and 1⁄16th Chinese, “It’s probably not the best tree we can achieve, but it’s good enough to start planting,” says Kim Steiner, director of Penn State University’s arboretum, and a science advisor to the Chestnut Foundation.

You can read more about the blight-resistant trees and other efforts that’s making this the American Chestnut’s comeback season.

Featured photo: Timothy Van Vliet (Wikipedia)

American Chestnut: The Favorite Deer Food from the Past

If you were suddenly cast back in time to the Appalachian mountain range at the turn of the 20th Century, you would find it almost unrecognizable compared to today. In the absence of regulated hunting and the presence of market gunning and poaching, many wildlife species like deer and turkey were teetering on the brink of extinction. Flights of passenger pigeons still blackened the skies, but wouldn’t for much longer. And rather than a mosaic of miscellaneous hardwoods, you could walk for miles under a canopy of mostly towering chestnut trees.

From Maine to Mississippi, branching east and west off the trunk of the Appalachians, American chestnuts were the most abundant hardwood tree in the eastern United States, making up an estimated 25 to 30 percent of the eastern hardwood forest. Naturally, they were also one of the most important sources of hard mast for a host of wildlife species.

Their importance was due not just to their abundance but their overall superiority to oaks. Chestnuts contain approximately 40 percent carbohydrates, compared to only about 10 percent for white oak acorns. They consist of 10 percent protein compared to only four percent for white oak acorns. Meanwhile they’re only two percent fat compared to 10 percent for acorns.

They also lack the cyclical nature of oaks, bearing mast annually, and flower later in spring, thus avoiding late frosts that occasionally cause widespread acorn failures. They grow faster and bear fruit at an earlier age, five years compared to as much as 20 for a white oak. They also grow bigger, 60-80 feet tall, becoming prolific producers of highly nutritional food. At least they did.

In 1904, Asian or Asiatic chestnut trees were imported into the New York Zoological Garden as nursery stock. Along with them came a chestnut blight, caused by an Asian bark fungus. The alien trees were resistant but domestic ones were not. In just two years nearly all of New York’s trees were infected. The blight then spread from there like a raging wildfire across an estimated 50 miles of forest a year. Over the next 30 years it spread from Maine to Georgia engulfing over 30 million acres of chestnut forest in what many consider the greatest ecological disaster in history. By the Great Depression, American chestnuts were all but wiped out. Gone.

Though American chestnuts have been all but eliminated as a measurable component of eastern forests, they still exist in some form. In the early 1950s, James Carpenter, a member of the Northern Nut Growers Association, discovered a large American chestnut tree growing in Ohio. Impressed with its blight resistance, he sent a sample to fellow NNGA member and well-known plant breeder Dr. Robert Dunstan, who grafted it onto chestnut root stock, which he then cross-pollinated with a mixture of three USDA-released Chinese chestnut varieties. The end result was the Dunstan chestnut, a hybrid known for both blight resistance and the production of large, high-quality nuts.

Don’t Miss: 10 Trees That Will Hold Deer on Your Hunting Property

Numerous other hybrid varieties have since been produced and increasingly, commercial nurseries and conservation organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation are making them available to hunters and land managers interested in improving the wildlife habitat on their land. Chestnuts are a great option as they represent a faster track to a more nutritious and reliable source of hard mast; and they grow well in a range of habitats and soil conditions.

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Meanwhile, two groups have sprouted up with some loftier goals. Since the 1980s, the American Chestnut Cooperators’ Foundation has been cross-breeding pure American chestnuts in an effort build up blight resistance, while also looking at forest ecology to determine if any specific forest habitat types foster chestnut growth. Alternately, the American Chestnut Foundation has been back-crossing naturally resistant Asian chestnuts with American chestnuts in hopes of developing a blight-resistant hybrid while still preserving as much of the genetic heritage of the American species as possible.

Their biggest obstacle is time, as they must wait for each new generation to mature before they can evaluate results. Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Forestry has been working with both groups, back-crossing pure American chestnuts to hybrid American chestnut trees. According to researcher Wayne Bowman, they now have 15/16th American chestnut seedlings, but may not know for a decade how blight-resistant they are.

Don’t Miss: The Ultimate Deer Hunting Property

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Every once in a while life presents you with a win-win situation. For those trying to improve habitat on their hunting land spring presents the chance to plant fruit and chestnut trees to provide game animals with improved and varied forage.

The idea of planting trees for habitat improvement can be daunting. Many of us do not know which trees are suitable or the best planting practices.

Chestnut Hill Outdoors offers expert information and can provide you with the best time-tested trees for wildlife. Plus all the information you need to choose the right trees for your location and how to plant them so they thrive.

Adding soft and hard mast trees to your habitat plan is a win-win because your hunting will improve while you leave a legacy of habitat improvement that will last for decades. These trees are a great and on-going compliment to seasonal food plots for any hunting land.

Spring is a great time of year to plant trees. Chestnut Hill Orchards begins shipping to Southern locations after the danger of frost has passed, and will ship trees progressively farther north as spring moves north. They have done decades of research on varieties of trees that can produce best in various climate zones, from the gulf coast to Michigan. They offer various varieties of persimmons, apples, pears and blight-resistant Dunstan chestnut trees that produce heavily. Even if you are not an expert on trees, you can make the right decision about what and where to plant.

A good first place to start the tree-planting process is the Chestnut Hill site. It has a wealth of information on everything from choosing the best site for wildlife trees to planting techniques to the characteristics of various tree varieties.

Choose the Site
Choosing a site for your trees is the next step. It’s worth thinking over for a couple of days, because the trees are going to be there for decades. Picking a good rather than marginal spot will increase growth and production significantly over the long term.

Pick a location with good soil drainage and exposure to sunlight. The more sun the better, for growth of the trees and fruit production. Chestnut Hills advises that you select a site with good air drainage such as on the top or side of a hill, if possible, to avoid frost pockets at the bottoms of hills. Avoid areas with soil that stays saturated for long periods of time, such as creek bottoms or swales that hold water.

Most trees are wind- and insect pollinated, so Chestnut Hills suggests planting them in groups of 5 to 10 is best for fruit and nut fertilization. They can also be planted to connect other cover to give wildlife more travel corridors that double as food sources.

Chestnut Hill trees are not difficult to plant, but the better your technique, the better start your tree will get. Check out this step-by-step outline of the procedure, including reasons for taking each step and how to deal with common issues such as heavy soils. That page also has a video, so you can see exactly how the experts plant their trees.

This year, resolve to improve your hunting and your land for the long term with Chestnut Hill fruit and chestnut trees.

Chinese vs. American Chestnut (Castanea mollissima vs. Castanea dentata)


Top View

American Leaf (left):
Leaf is long in relation to its width
Large, prominent teeth on edge; bristle at the end of each tooth curves inward
Base of leaf blade tapers sharply
Leaf is very thin and papery

Chinese Leaf (right):
Leaf is oval-shaped
Teeth are smaller
Base of leaf blade is rounded
Leaf is thick and waxy-feeling

Bottom View

American Leaf (left):
Elongated leaf
Large, prominent teeth on edge; bristle on teeth curves inward
Blade tapers sharply to meet stem at base of leaf blade
Light green underside on leaves exposed to the sun

Chinese Leaf (right):
Oval-shaped leaf
Small teeth on edge
Base of leaf blade rounded
Underside of sun leaves look whitish because of many hairs

Buds & Stems

American Buds and Lenticels

Pointed buds that angle away from the stem
Stems smooth and hairless
Stem color reddish brown to dark green
Small but numerous lenticels on stem

Chinese Buds and Lenticels

Rounded buds that hug the stem
Hairy stems and hairy leaf veins
Stem color tan to pea-green
Large lenticels (bumps) on stem


American Stipules

Angle sharply out from stem
Usually fall off in June

Chinese Stipules

Cover the buds
Remain on the stem through September

Burs & Nuts

American Bur ——–Chinese Bur

American Chestnut Burs:
A dense mass of long, slender spines
Spines are 2 to 3 cm long, 0.5 mm thick
Up to 3 nuts per bur

Chinese Chestnut Burs:
A sparse mass of short, thick spines
Spines are 1 to 2 cm long, 1 mm thick
Up to 3 nuts per bur

American Nut —— Chinese Nut

American Chestnuts:
Nuts are relatively small, 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter
Tips of American chestnuts are pointed
Nuts are hairy over 1/3 to 2/3 of length from pointed end
Vascular bundles in a sunburst pattern on hilum end
2 to 3 nuts in each bur

Chinese Chestnuts:
Nuts are relatively large, 3/4 to 2 inches in diameter
Tips of Chinese chestnuts are rounded
Only the tips of the nuts are hairy
Vascular bundles in a diffuse pattern on hilum end
2 to 3 nuts in each bur

Castanea mollissima Chinese Chestnut – Environmental Horticulture …

Fact Sheet ST-128November 1993Castanea mollissimaChinese Chestnut 1Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson 2INTRODUCTIONChinese Chestnut reaches a height and spread ofabout 40 feet in a sunny, open exposure and a welldrainedsoil (Fig. 1). It usually branches close to theground making it a good candidate for a specimen oras a tree to climb. The tree is hard to transplant,perhaps due to a coarse root system. The chiefornamental feature is yellowish white catkins, presentin early summer, and a coarse foliage. A very strikingtree. The odor given off by the flowers for a shortperiod may be considered offensive to some people.The nuts are edible but not as sweet as the AmericanChestnut. The soft, spiny nut could become a hazardon sidewalks (pedestrians could roll on the fruit andfall), so locate them accordingly. But it is also fun forchildren to collect. In cold climates the growing seasonmay not be long enough for the nuts to mature.GENERAL INFORMATIONScientific name: Castanea mollissimaPronunciation: kass-TAY-nee-uh maw-LISS-sim-uhCommon name(s): Chinese ChestnutFamily: FagaceaeUSDA hardiness zones: 5 through 8 (Fig. 2)Origin: not native to North AmericaUses: fruit tree; shade tree; specimen; residentialstreet tree; tree has been successfully grown in urbanareas where air pollution, poor drainage, compactedsoil, and/or drought are commonAvailability: somewhat available, may have to go outof the region to find the treeFigure 1. Mature Chinese Chestnut.DESCRIPTIONHeight: 35 to 40 feetSpread: 40 to 50 feetCrown uniformity: symmetrical canopy with aregular (or smooth) outline, and individuals have moreor less identical crown formsCrown shape: roundCrown density: moderateGrowth rate: mediumTexture: coarse1. This document is adapted from Fact Sheet ST-128, a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service,Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date: November 1993.2. Edward F. Gilman, associate professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, associate professor, Agricultural EngineeringDepartment, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville FL 32611.

  • Page 2 and 3: Castanea mollissima — Chinese Ches
  • Page 4: Castanea mollissima — Chinese Ches

Castanea mollissima: Chinese Chestnut1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson2


Chinese chestnut reaches a height and spread of about 40 feet in a sunny, open exposure and a well-drained soil. It usually branches close to the ground making it a good candidate for a specimen or as a tree to climb. The tree is hard to transplant, perhaps due to a coarse root system. The chief ornamental feature is yellowish white catkins, present in early summer, and a coarse foliage. A very striking tree. The odor given off by the flowers for a short period may be considered offensive to some people. The nuts are edible but not as sweet as the American chestnut. The soft, spiny nut could become a hazard on sidewalks (pedestrians could roll on the fruit and fall), so locate them accordingly. But it is also fun for children to collect. In cold climates the growing season may not be long enough for the nuts to mature.

Figure 1.

Mature Castanea mollissima: Chinese Chestnut


Ed Gilman

General Information

Scientific name: Castanea mollissima Pronunciation: kass-TAY-nee-uh maw-LISS-sim-uh Common name(s): Chinese chestnut Family: Fagaceae USDA hardiness zones: 5A through 8B (Fig. 2) Origin: not native to North America Invasive potential: little invasive potential Uses: specimen; fruit; shade; street without sidewalk; urban tolerant Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the tree Figure 2.



Height: 35 to 40 feet Spread: 40 to 50 feet Crown uniformity: symmetrical Crown shape: round Crown density: moderate Growth rate: moderate Texture: coarse


Leaf arrangement: alternate (Fig. 3) Leaf type: simple Leaf margin: serrate Leaf shape: oblong, lanceolate Leaf venation: pinnate Leaf type and persistence: deciduous Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches, 4 to 8 inches Leaf color: green Fall color: yellow, copper Fall characteristic: showy Figure 3.



Flower color: yellow, white/cream/gray Flower characteristics: showy


Fruit shape: oval, round Fruit length: 1 to 3 inches Fruit covering: dry or hard Fruit color: green Fruit characteristics: attracts squirrels/mammals; showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches droop; not showy; can be trained to one trunk; thorns Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure Breakage: resistant Current year twig color: brown Current year twig thickness: medium Wood specific gravity: unknown


Light requirement: full sun Soil tolerances: sand; loam; clay; acidic; slightly alkaline; well-drained Drought tolerance: moderate Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate


Roots: not a problem Winter interest: no Outstanding tree: no Ozone sensitivity: unknown Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases

Use and Management

This is an urban-tough tree which may not be a suitable tree for street or parking lot locations but it can make a nice shade tree. Any advantages of using this tree may be overshadowed by the potential disease problems (although it is moderately resistant to chestnut blight), so plant it in limited numbers. Makes a nice tree to line entry roads or along walks to create a low-canopy shade tree. The fruit attracts wildlife, and could be used in natural areas or other non-traffic situations, away from pedestrian traffic. This is a novelty tree which should be planted occasionally rather than a staple for urban planting.

Best growth is in full-day sun. Chinese chestnut is tolerant of some drought but prefers good soil which is loose, not dry, and not too wet.

Diseases and Pests

Usually pest-free.

Blight of chestnut has virtually eliminated the American chestnut from the landscape, but Chinese chestnut is moderately resistant to the disease, not immune. The disease caused cankers on the branches then moved into the trunk killing the tree. There is no chemical control for the disease. Most chestnuts now grown are asiatic types and are resistant (but not immune) to the disease caused by the chestnut blight fungus.

Twig canker is a problem on asiatic chestnuts. The symptoms are a brown discoloration on a twig. The disease girdles the twig and moves down to a larger branch. The leaves on the girdled branch wilt, turn brown and die. The canker is obvious due to callus formation at the canker margin. The disease attacks seedlings, very old trees, or unhealthy trees of any age. No chemical control is available. Prune out diseased branches and prevent the disease by keeping trees healthy.

Leaf spots caused by various fungi can be a problem. These are not serious so no chemical controls are listed. Clean up and dispose of diseased leaves.

Powdery mildew causes a white powdery growth on the leaves.


This document is ENH287, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Reviewed February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at

Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county’s UF/IFAS Extension office.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.

R. H. Zander
November 17, 2000

(Keep choosing between each pair of characteristics until you get to a species.)

1a. Leaves smooth between the veins on both sides (even when young), lacking hairs or stalked glands (sometimes glands are present but lack stalks; the veins are sometimes hairy in young leaves) . . . . go to 2

1b. Leaves (especially sun leaves) densely hairy below when young (at least in patches) or at least minutely stalked-glandular below or some combination of glands and hairs . . . . go to 4

2a. Leaf teeth represented by bristles; nut one in a bur. Rare tall tree species of Central and Western China with narrow, willow-like leaves . . . . Henry Chinkapin (C. henryi)

2b. Leaf teeth broad and curving triangular though commonly ending in a bristle; nut two or more in a bur. Common. . . . . go to 3

3a. With one distinct long trunk; leaves often thin and dull on top, usually long (5–10 inches), lance-shaped and narrowing to a fine point (but shade leaves are commonly rather short and broad), broadly vee-shaped at base, mid-vein often with long appressed hairs; branchlets lacking hairs, brown late in season; nuts small, about one-half inch in width; spines thin, easily bent with finger . . . . American Chestnut (C. dentata)

3b. Trunks often more than one, branching near ground; leaves often firm and glossy on top, usually short (3–7 inches but occasionally very long) and ovate to elliptical, generally rounded at base, midvein often with spreading hairs; branchlets occasionally with long, coarse hairs, gray-green late in season; nuts usually up to 1 inch in width; spines thicker, stiff . . . . Chinese Chestnut or Chinese-American hybrid

4a. Trees . . . . go to 5

4b. Shrubs, occasionally becoming small trees . . . . go to 7

5a. Young leaves densely hairy below but without stalked-glandular hairs (except often glandular on midvein), hairs each branching from the base; nuts 2–3 in a bur, wider than long . . . . Chinese Chestnut (C. mollissima) see also video1

5b. Young leaves with both hairs and stalked glands below, the stalked glands brownish, spherical or flattened . . . . go to 6

6a. Leaves 5–8 inches long, broadest below the middle, variously shallowly or deeply toothed, glands mostly occurring near midvein and side veins; smallest branches brown, thick, with very short, weak, simple hairs . . . . European Chestnut (C. sativa)

6b. Leaves 3–6 inches long, broadest in the middle or above the middle, weakly toothed, the teeth often only bristles, glands many, all over the lower surface of the leaf; smallest branches reddish brown, thin, more strongly hairy at least when young . . . . Japanese Chestnut (C. crenata)

7a. Young leaves not hairy but with glands below; nuts usually three in a bur. Asian . . . . Seguin Chestnut (C. seguinii)

7b. Young leaves densely hairy below (at least when young), not glandular except on midvein or veins; nuts one in a bur . . . . go to 8

8b. Mature bur with more distant spines and appearing rough. Uncommon, southeastern . . . . Trailing Chinkapin (C. alnifolium)



1a. Leaf stalks long, to 1¼ inches long or more . . . . European Chestnut

1b. Leaf stalks short, seldom more than 1 inch, usually much shorter, 1/4 to 1/2 inches long. . . . go to 2

2a. Leaves long and narrow, gradually narrowing at the base, smooth on the underside when young excepting long hairs on the veins . . . . American Chestnut

2b. Leaves broad and elliptical, abruptly narrowing at the base, densely hairy on the underside when young . . . . go to 3

3a. Leaf teeth triangular . . . . Chinese Chestnut

3b. Leaf teeth merely stiff hairs on the margins . . . . Japanese Chestnut



1a. Leaf stalks long, to 1¼ inches long or more . . . . European Chestnut

1b. Leaf stalks short, seldom more than 1 inch, usually 1/4 to 1/2 inch long . . . go to 2

2a. Leaf teeth weakly developed, mostly just stiff hairs on the leaf margins . . . . Japanese Chestnut

2b. Leaf teeth triangular . . . go to 3

3a. Leaves broad and elliptical, abruptly narrowing at the base, densely hairy on the underside when young; spines of burr thicker, stiff and resisting bending with finger. . . . Chinese Chestnut

3b. Leaves long and narrow, gradually narrowing at the base, smooth on the underside when young excepting long hairs on the veins; spines of burr thinner, easily bent with finger . . . . American Chestnut



These keys are modified and expanded from Arthur H. Graves’ “Keys to Chestnut Species,” 40th Annual Report of the National Nut Growers Association, 95–107, 1950. Hairs that are characteristic of certain chestnut species are deciduous and may completely disappear (except for some hairs on the ribs) from the underside of a leaf as the leaf matures. To determine hairiness, in summer it is important to examine small leaves from the extreme ends of branches; a sample taken for identification should be a twig from the end of a branch, with several attached leaves. Fold the leaf back to expose the underside as a ridge and examine from the side with a hand-lens to see the hairs best. The very smallest early spring leaves of American chestnut, however, are felted underneath with simple hairs and may be densely glandular. Also, hybrids between the various Chestnut species are very difficult to identify. Hairiness of leaves is a genetically dominant character and hairs that branch at the base should be present on the young leaves of Chinese-American hybrids. Hairs are absent, however, on leaves of some trees resulting from crosses between the two hybrids (whenever a plant has double genes for the recessive hairless trait). A good rule of thumb is to assume you have a hybrid unless you have good reason to believe otherwise, such as having all characters agree exactly with the key.


American Chestnut leaves are dull (matte), light green, thin and limp (unless they are sun leaves), their burs have fine hair-like spines, and the nuts are small, usually with a clear “sunburst” on the scar; while Chinese and European Chestnut leaves are dark glossy green on top (compare upper and lower surfaces by folding the leaf over), more leathery and stiff (even in the shade), and have burs with thick, stiff spines and larger nuts, these usually lacking the vascular bundle “sunburst”. Sometimes on the underside of pure American Chestnut leaves a few simple hairs may be found on the midrib or a few glands between the veins. American-European hybrids often have simple hairs on the ventral (top) side of the leaf midvein. A common European-Japanese hybrid has long leafstalks and spiny leaf teeth.

According to K.C. Nixon’s Castanea treatment in Flora of North America, European Chestnut differs from the American by star-forming hairs on the underside of its leaves, which have long leaf-stalk (to 1¼ inches or more), while Chinese Chestnut has twigs with spreading hairs and lacks the glands found on the underside of the leaves of both American and European.

Some horticultural hybrids are the Blaringhem Chestnut (mollissima × sativa), Burbank Chestnut (mollissima × pumila), Couderc Chestnut (crenata × sativa), Endicott Chestnut (crenata × dentata), Vanfleet Chestnut (crenata × pumila), Morris Chestnut (alnifolia × mollissima), and Pulchella Chestnut (pumila × sativa). There are also many horticultural clones, including American Chestnuts with fairly large nuts.

The “chestnut oaks” have leaves much like those of the chestnut tree, but have blunt leaf teeth that end in a thick, short, blunt point, while those of genuine chestnuts are narrow and sharp, and often ending in a bristle. The leaf-stalks of chestnut oaks are usually considerably longer than those of true chestnuts. If still unsure, check branches and ground for acorns. The Horsechestnut, a common street tree, differs from true chestnuts in having five or more leaflets on each leafstalk. Beech leaves have hairy margins, which are not infolded.

American Chestnut is more cold-hardy than Chinese or European, and collections from northern areas or high elevations (such as the in Adirondacks) are more probably American than anything else. According to S. Anagnostakis, European chestnut hybrids with the American chestnut (“Paragon”) were available by mail order since 1830, and have been planted widely, including in deep forest situations by foresters and around farms that have been abandoned and around which forest has matured. If the “marroni” form of the European chestnut has Asian genes (which give it the large nut size), as Dr. Anagnostakis suspects, then both European and Asian genes may have been originally introduced into America by Thomas Jefferson when he imported European chestnuts in 1773. It is probable that after more than 200 years of hybridization with both European and Asian chestnuts, the only chestnuts that can be assumed to be pure American are those in virgin forests.

The Allegheny Chinkapin is a small tree or shrub of dry woods, New Jersey and Pennsylvania south to Florida and Texas. The leaf base is sharply tapered like the American Chestnut; the tip comes to a sharp point but is not elongated, and the leaf is broadest is near the tip, being obovate-lanceolate. The leaves are hairy beneath. Each bur has one small, very sweet nut.



LEAVES: Leaves flexible; lanceolate; teeth large, sharp; both sun and shade leaves lacking hairs between the veins.

STIPULES: narrow; 0.1-0.2 cm (about 1/32″ to 3/32″) wide at base; falling off early.

TWIGS: red-brown to brownish green; smooth; lenticels (pores) small, 0.1 mm (very tiny, like powder).

BUDS: red-brown to yellow-brown; sharp, width only half that of length; angled outward from stem.

NUTS: far ends pointed; hairs on 1/3 to 2/3 of length; sunburst present.

BURS: spines mostly 0.5 mm (about 1/64″) in diameter and 2-3 cm (about 3/4″ to 1 1/4″) in length.


LEAVES: shiny; leathery; ovate; teeth relatively small; leaf base often rounded; sun leaves hairy below between veins.

STIPULES: triangular; 0.5-1.0 (about 1/4″ to 3/4″) cm wide at base; persistent on twig.

TWIGS: tan or very green; hairy; lenticels (pores) large, 0.5 mm (about 1/64″).

BUDS: tan to dull brown; rounded, nearly as wide as long; angled towards stem tip.

NUTS: far ends rounded; hairs only near end; sunburst usually absent.

BURS: spines mostly 1 mm (about 1/32″) in diameter and 1-2 cm (1/3″ to 3/4″) in length.

See also (click) Movie on American Chestnut and

Movie on Chinese Chestnut


The American Chestnut Foundation New York State Chapter is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to re-establishing the American Chestnut in our forests. The American Chestnut was largely destroyed by a blight in the 1930’s, and is much missed because of its imposing size, sweet nuts, and straight trunks that made excellent, rot-resistant lumber. Various programs, including plant breeding for blight-resistance, are supported. Members of the Chapter meet once a year to exchange information, stories about chestnuts, listen to talks, and distribute nuts from living trees for people to plant (this maintains the biological diversity needed for the hoped-for future stands of blight-resistant American chestnuts). The public is invited to join. Inquiries about membership can be directed to:

Herbert F. Darling
131 California Dr.
Williamsville, NY 14221
[email protected]

And check out the American Chestnut Foundation’s web site, .

More resources art at:

Chestnuts are falling, autumn calling…

Mark Heathcote

True chestnuts are in the genus Castanea, which worldwide includes only eight or nine different species of deciduous trees and shrubs. Here at Mount Auburn we grow Chinese chestnuts, Castenea mollissima. In October you may come upon the curiously noticeable fruits (nuts) on the ground beneath these trees. Noted plantsman Michael Dirr in his Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs aptly describes them, “The edible nuts are borne two to three together in a prickly structure not unlike a mini-porcupine.” As with all plants, these fruits were preceded by their successfully fertilized flowers. Occurring mid-to-late June, each tree develops separate male and female flowers. The ornamentally visible male, or staminate, flowers are pale yellow or cream colored, cylindrically clustered along erect catkins, 3-to-8-inches long. These male flowers are very aromatic, although many say this odor is unpleasant. Separate less visible female flowers found at the base of some male catkins, may eventually produce the prickly burr covering the nuts.

The nuts are prized edibles, and over time hundreds of cultivated varieties of Chinese chestnuts have been selected and introduced. The nuts have little protein or fat, and no gluten, and are primarily carbohydrates. Chestnuts are also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to improve blood circulation, prevent and improve high blood pressure, heart disease, and osteoporosis, in addition to other uses.

Sweet chestnuts lie upon the ground

They’ve fallen from the tree,

As summer ends and autumn nears

There’s nothing left for me…

-Andrew Blakemore

Chinese chestnut trees grow forty-feet tall and may be equally as wide. The alternate, 3-to-6-inch long, lustrous green leaves have a serrated margin, many culminating with bristle like teeth. Autumn color ranges from yellow to light bronze, and the leaves may persist on the tree long into the season, as do some oaks and beeches, which all are related within the FAGACEAE, or beech family.

…Stopped just at the roots of the great chestnut where the woodchuck’s burrow was,

froze, and the doe looked back over her shoulder at me for a long moment,…

-Robert Hass

While we do not grow other species of chestnuts, two other very similar species are worth mentioning. Sweet chestnut, Castanea sativa is native to southern Europe, western Asia and northern Africa, and has long been a staple subsistence food. Evidence of its cultivation dates back four millennia. It was repeatedly planted across vast geographic areas by Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) as well as by the Romans in ancient times. Today it remains a valuable export for Turkey, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain. Many Mount Auburn visitors regularly shop for these chestnuts just six to eight blocks west of Mount Auburn Cemetery, on Mount Auburn Street in Watertown.

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,

Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?…

William Butler Yeats

Of course we must also mention the American chestnut, Castanea dentata, once the Queen of the eastern American forest trees, comprising up to 25 percent of the trees in the Appalachian ecosystem. Beginning in 1904, when a devastating host-specific, canker-causing fungi was first observed in the Bronx Zoo, the virulence spread rapidly. In 1908 1400 chestnut trees in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park were killed. Inevitably this destructive Asian fungi, Cryphonectria parasitica, (formerly Endothia parasitica), crossed state lines into New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and south to Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, in addition to all of the New England states. Susan Freinkel in American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree recounts this staggering loss, as well as the long and varied research, breeding, biological controls, and biotechnology used to try and bring back a species from the brink of extinction. Freinkel relates the cumulative magnitude of the blight, “All told it is estimated the blight killed between three and four billion trees. Three to four billion. Enough trees to fill nine million acres. Enough trees to cover Yellowstone Nation Park eighteen hundred times over. Enough trees to give two to every person on the planet at that time.”

With chestnut blight, my ashen crown

Looms remorsefully…

Karen Sinclair

The Chinese chestnut, Castenea mollissima and other Asian chestnut species evolving over time in coexistence with this fungal blight have a high degree of resistance, and suffer minimal damage when exposed. Herein our tree tragedy finds a ray of hope. By creating a hybrid tree from crossing a scarce surviving American chestnut with a Chinese chestnut, the resulting offspring will comprise an approximately 50/50 progeny. By crossing this hybrid once again with another American chestnut, and then crossing that progeny again with another American chestnut, and so on, this process is known as backcrossing. Backcrossing to a generation of progeny with 15/16ths American chestnut, might have introduced just enough resistance from the Chinese chestnut. There has also been considerable work using genetic bioengineering with a goal of inserting resistant genes into American chestnuts. The hope of introducing a close to resistant American chestnut, Castanea dentata appears before us. Of course only time will tell, but Freinkel quotes longtime chestnut researcher Dennis Fulbright, “It would be just like getting a gift from the heavens.” On your next visit to Mount Auburn look for our Chinese chestnut, Castenea mollissima on Hibiscus Path, Gladiolus Path and Cowslip Path.

I see again, as one in vision sees,

The blossoms and the bees

And hear the children’s voices shout and call

And the brown chestnuts fall.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

What Are Chinese Chestnuts: How To Grow Chinese Chestnut Trees

Chinese chestnut trees may sound exotic, but the species is an emerging tree crop in North America. Many gardeners growing Chinese chestnuts do so for the nutritious, low-fat nuts, but the tree itself is attractive enough to be an ornamental. Read on to learn how to grow Chinese chestnut trees.

What are Chinese Chestnuts?

If you plant a Chinese chestnut tree, your neighbors will probably ask the inevitable question: “What are Chinese chestnuts?” A full answer includes both the tree of that name and the nut of that tree.

Chinese chestnut trees (Castanea mollissima) are medium tall trees with spreading branches. The leaves are glossy and dark green. The tree produces delicious and edible nuts called chestnuts or Chinese chestnuts.

Chestnuts grow on the trees inside spikey burs, each about an inch in diameter. When the nuts are ripe, the burs fall from the trees and split open on the ground beneath. Each bur holds at least one and sometimes as many as three shiny brown


Chinese vs. American Chestnuts

American chestnuts (Castanea dentata) once grew in vast forests across the eastern half of the country, but they were virtually wiped out by a disease called chestnut blight several decades ago. Chinese chestnut trees are particularly attractive because blight-resistant varieties are available.

Otherwise, the differences are slight. The leaves of American chestnuts are narrower and the nuts slightly smaller than Chinese chestnuts. American chestnut trees are more upright, while the Chinese chestnut is wider and more spreading.

How to Grow Chinese Chestnut

If you are interested in growing Chinese chestnuts, start with well-drained, loamy soil. Never attempt to a grow Chinese chestnut tree in heavy clay soil or poorly drained soils, since this will promote the Phytophthora root rot that devastates the species.

Opt for soil that is slightly acidic, with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. If you live in a cold climate, don’t plant the tree in a frost pocket since this can damage the buds in springtime and reduce the crop. Instead, pick a growing site with good air circulation.

Although Chinese chestnut trees become drought tolerant as their root systems establish, you should provide ample water if you want the tree to grow well and produce nuts. If the trees are water stressed, the nuts will be smaller and fewer.

Chinese Chestnut Uses

Chestnuts are an excellent source of healthy starch. You score each nut with a knife, then roast it or boil it. When the nuts are cooked, remove the leathery shell and seed coat. The inner nut, with pale golden meat, is delicious.

You can use chestnuts in poultry stuffing, toss them into soups, or eat them in salads. They can also be ground into a healthy and delicious flour and used to make pancakes, muffins or other breads.

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