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Castanea dentata

Castanea dentata (Marsh.) Borkh.

Castanea americana (Michx.) Raf.

American Chestnut

KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae (from Stearn’s Botanical Latin)
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassMagnoliopsidaDicotyledons—plants with two initial seed leaves
SubclassRosidaeRoses, legumes, proteas, dogwoods, hydrangeas, mistletoes, euphorbias, grapes, many more
OrderFagalesBirch, she-oak, beech, walnut, bayberry, others
FamilyFagaceaeBeech familhy
GenusCastanea“Chestnut-colored”
Speciesdentata“With teeth like a saw,” for the leaves

About plant names...

American chestnut trees are, not surprisingly, a North American native species, once so abundant they are estimated to have comprised 25-30% of all hardwoods in their natural range in eastern North America. Now they have been decimated by a fungal pathogen called chestnut blight fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica). Remarkably, although this fungus killed most chestnuts back to the ground in the 1930s and 40s, many of those stumps still produce viable sprouts. Unfortunately, the young trees only rarely last long enough to produce nuts. Many efforts are underway to produce more blight-resistant hybrids.

Identification: Trees reach up to 98' (30 m) in height and 9½' (3 m) in diameter. Well they did, that is, before the chestnut blight started killing mature trees as well as saplings by the time they reached 20' (6.1 m) or so in height. Now this is pretty much their upper height limit over most of their original range. Ironically, these majestic trees that were once called the redwoods of the east.

Leaves are oblong to lanceolate, alternate, 6-8" (14-20 cm) × 2½-4" (7-10 cm), with sharp dentate “saw teeth” and pinnate veins. Male flowers are small, pale green, packed tightly along catkins that are 6-8" (15-20 cm) long. Fruits are round, sharply spiny husks 2-2½" (5-6.3 cm) across, which dry and crack open to reveal 2-3 polished burgundy brown nuts, roughly round but squeezed into funny shapes by pressure against neighboring nuts. Each nut is ½-1" (1.3-2.5 cm) around, with a round, tan-colored patch about ⅜" (1 cm) in diameter.

Edibility: Chestnuts from many species are edible; these are smaller than some but also sweeter. Nutmeats are dried and powdered, then added to flour to make cakes and breads. Roasted chestnuts may be shelled and eaten, or used as coffee or chocolate substitutes. Because the American species is semi-extinct, European chestnuts are the primary source of these edible nuts now.

Online References:

Castanea dentata on Discover Life

Castanea dentata at the Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation

Castanea dentata on www.npr.org

Castanea dentata on Plants for a Future, a resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants

Castanea dentata on Wikipedia

Castanea dentata on www.carolinanature.com

Castanea dentata at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Castanea dentata on eFloras

Castanea dentata (American Chestnut)

10/2/2013 · Beaver Brook Assn Conservation Lands, Chestnut Farm, Hollis, NH
≈ 6 × 9" (15 × 22 cm)

Castanea dentata (American Chestnut)

6/2/2010 · J. Harry Rich State Forest, Groton, MA
≈ 10 × 15" (26 × 39 cm) ID is uncertain

Castanea dentata (American Chestnut)

6/2/2010 · J. Harry Rich State Forest, Groton, MA
≈ 21 × 14" (52 × 34 cm) ID is uncertain

Castanea dentata (American Chestnut)

10/2/2013 · Beaver Brook Assn Conservation Lands, Chestnut Farm, Hollis, NH
≈ 9 × 6" (23 × 16 cm)

Castanea dentata description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 8 Nov 2013.

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Castanea dentata (American Chestnut)

5/20/2012 · J. Harry Rich State Forest, Groton, MA
≈ 9 × 6" (22 × 14 cm) ID is uncertain

Castanea dentata (American Chestnut)

8/14/2013 · Beaver Brook Assn Conservation Lands, Rte. 130, Hollis, NH
≈ 8 × 12" (21 × 31 cm)

Castanea dentata (American Chestnut)

5/20/2012 · J. Harry Rich State Forest, Groton, MA
≈ 7 × 11" (18 × 27 cm) ID is uncertain

Castanea dentata (American Chestnut)

8/14/2013 · Beaver Brook Assn Conservation Lands, Rte. 130, Hollis, NH
≈ 12 × 8" (31 × 21 cm)

Castanea dentata (American Chestnut)

10/2/2013 · Beaver Brook Assn Conservation Lands, Chestnut Farm, Hollis, NH
≈ 10 × 7" (25 × 16 cm)

Castanea dentata (American Chestnut)

6/2/2010 · J. Harry Rich State Forest, Groton, MA
≈ 12 × 8" (31 × 20 cm) ID is uncertain

Castanea dentata (American Chestnut)

9/13/2010 · Burge’s Pond, Westford, MA
≈ 11 × 7" (27 × 18 cm) ID is uncertain

Range: Zones 5-8:

About this map...