Chestnuts are a group of hardwood, deciduous trees, native to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Most chestnut species are tall trees, commonly with furrowed bark when mature. All chestnut types have oblong leaves with serrated edges.
Most male flowers are borne in long upright catkins; female flowers are arranged singly or in clusters at the base of short male catkins. The spiny bur surrounds one to seven nuts, depending on the species, and splits upon maturity. The seeds lose viability rapidly and typically germinate shortly after they fall to the ground in autumn.
Tree chestnut fruits have a prickly greenish covering called a burr. Inside are one to three shiny dark brown seeds, which are the chestnuts. The nuts are white inside and vary in sweetness, flavor and size depending on the species.
Chestnuts are moderately fast-growing trees if growing conditions are adequate. When grown for their wood, they can be cut nearly to the ground every few years. This practice is called “coppicing” and results in vigorous regrowth of numerous long, straight trunks.
Chestnut trees are wonderful deciduous trees for the garden or backyard, as long as you have some room. In this article find different types of chestnut trees with how to grow and care for them.
- Japanese Chestnut (Castanea crenata)
- Chinese Chestnut (Castanea mollissima)
- European Chestnut/ Sweet Chestnut or Spanish Chestnut (Castanea sativa)
- American Chestnut (Castanea dentata)
- Dwarf Chestnut Tree (Chinquapin chestnut); (Castanea pumila)
- Cape Chestnut Trees (Calodendrum capense)
- Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)
- Moreton Bay Chestnut or Lucky Bean Chestnut (Castanospermum australe)
- Water Chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis)
True Chestnut Trees
Japanese chestnut is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree growing to 10-15 m tall. The leaves are similar to those of the sweet chestnut, though usually a little smaller. Japanese chestnut tree that has been used in plant-disease resistance research due to its resistance to chestnut blight and ink disease.
Japanese chestnuts are encased in an outer, green-brown husk known as a bur, which is round to oval in shape and is covered in a layer of interlocking spines. When the bur is removed, an additional shell is revealed, enclosing seeds. The seeds are covered in a thin, brown skin and have a yellow, soft, and dense flesh with a slightly bitter flavor. Japanese chestnuts develop a tender, starchy, and firm consistency when cooked with a sweet and nutty flavor.
Chinese chestnut slowly grows to a height of 40 to 60 feet tall at a rate of 2 to 3 feet annually. Its expansive canopy has branches of medium strength that form a rounded or umbrella-shaped crown and can spread out about 60 feet wide. This tree provide beauty to the landscape with its glossy green leaves and an abundance of chestnuts in fall. In autumn the leaves turn bronze or golden yellow, adding color to your landscape.
The tree produces showy, cream or white flowers to add to the beauty of your summer landscape. While the flowers are aromatic, the scent is more like a peculiar or foul odor, that some people find offensive, than a pleasant fragrance.The chestnuts draw wildlife to your yard and can be a litter issue if planted near paved or recreational areas. The flowers turn into an abundance of edible chestnuts you can use in holiday recipes in the fall.
Chestnuts grow on the trees inside spikey burs, each about an inch (2.5 cm) 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 nuts. The chestnuts draw wildlife to your yard and can be a litter issue if planted near paved or recreational areas. Chinese chestnut has various cultivars grown for nut production including “Abundance,” “Kuling,” and “Nanking.”
European chestnut (Castanea sativa) is also called Spanish chestnut or sweet chestnut. It is a large, spreading forest tree that can grow 70 to 100 feet tall and 50 to 70 feet wide. It has a pyramidal-rounded to broad-columnar form. Sweet chestnut trees live to an age of 500 to 600 years. In cultivation they may even grow as old as 1,000 years or more
The bark often has a net-shaped (retiform) pattern with deep furrows or fissures running spirally in both directions up the trunk. The trunk is mostly straight with branching starting at low heights. European chestnut trees have dark green leaves that are slightly furry. The underside is a lighter shade of green. In the fall, the leaves turn canary yellow. Tiny clustered flowers appear in male and female catkins in summer.
Although each European chestnut tree has male and female flowers, it is naturally self incompatible, meaning that the plant cannot pollinate itself, making cross-pollination necessary. Some cultivars only produce one large seed per cupule, while others produce up to three seeds. The nut itself is composed of two skins: an external, shiny brown part, and an internal skin adhering to the fruit. Inside, there is an edible, creamy-white part developed from the cotyledon.
American chestnut tree
As is true of all species in genus Castanea, the American chestnut produces burred fruit with edible nuts. The American chestnut was one of the most important forest trees throughout its range and was considered the finest chestnut tree in the world.
The American chestnut tree has a moderate growth rate, generally growing 2 to 3 feet per season. It generally grows to a height of 50 to 75 feet, though it is capable of growing between 80 and 100 feet. Because it also has a spread of roughly 50 to 75 feet, the American chestnut has a round-looking or “globular” spreading crown. Now that chestnut blight has all but made these trees extinct, it is rare to find a tree this tall.
The American chestnut tree has oblong leaves of a medium or dark green color, which in fall turn bronze or gold. Showy green or yellow flowers appear in springtime, usually around June, and give way to fruit in fall.
The American chestnut is a prolific bearer of nuts, with inflorescence and nut production in the wild beginning when a tree is 8 to 10 years old. American chestnut burrs often open while still attached to the tree, around the time of the first frost in autumn, with the nuts then falling to the ground. American chestnut typically have three nuts. These nuts are the classic chestnut, whose shells are enclosed in a spiny ball about 1 1/2 to 3 inches wide, each lined in tan velvet.
Dwarf Chestnut Tree
Dwarf Chestnut tree It is a spreading shrub or small tree, reaching 2–8 m in height at maturity. The bark is red- or gray-brown and slightly furrowed into scaly plates. The leaves are simple, alternately arranged, narrowly elliptical or lanceolate, yellow-green above and paler and finely hairy on the underside. The plant’s habitat is dry sandy and rocky uplands and ridges mixed with oak and Hickory to 1000 m elevation. It grows best on well-drained soils in full sun or partial shade.
In spring to early summer, showy but strong-smelling, creamy-white flowers appear in catkins. They give way to edible chestnuts which are encased in spiny dehiscent burs, 3 cm across. The nuts have a sweet flavor and are considered better tasting than those of American chestnut (Castanea dentata). They were a favorite of indigenous people and are also eaten by many birds and mammals, including squirrels, chipmunks, opossums, white-tailed deer, bluejays, pileated woodpeckers, red-headed woodpeckers. A beautiful specimen shade tree for lawns or to provide food for yourself and wildlife.
False Chestnut Trees
The cape chestnut reaches a height of 25 feet when grown as a single specimen. When planted as part of a group of trees, it tends to be taller, potentially up to 40 feet in height. It has a naturally rounded growth habit, with a full crown and alternating branches.
The tree’s leaves are oval, dark green, and have tiny spots, or stipules, on their surfaces. The spots are glands that release an oil with a citruslike smell when the leaves are crushed. The cape chestnut begins blooming when about 5 years old, producing upright and showy lavender flower clusters that resemble candelabras and can be 1 foot in length. A mature tree in full bloom can have so many flowers that its leaves seem to disappear.
Like true chestnuts, the horse chestnut tree bears serrated leaves. However, the tip of the leaf bulges out into a round end topped with a very thin taper. Its leaves are also compound, with five to seven leaflets emanating from a single stem like spokes on a wheel. The leaf stems and buds appear directly opposite each other on horse chestnut twigs, which will look coarse and pitted on close examination.
Another way to identify the horse chestnut tree is to pull a leaf stem off a branch and examine the shape of the tissue left behind on the branch. Drops of liquid will emanate from the U-shape, giving the appearance of nails in a horseshoe. This is how the horse chestnut earned its common name.
The large, capsule-like fruit of the horse chestnut ripens in summer and is ready for picking in autumn. The large, shiny seeds inside resemble edible chestnuts but the seeds from the common horse chestnut are highly toxic and may be fatal if eaten.
Moreto Bay Chestnut
Moreto Bay Chestnut also referred to as Lucky Bean Chestnut are evergreen trees native to the Australian coastline, where they can grow up to 65 feet tall. In the home landscape, they may only get 20 feet tall, and even smaller when grown in a container.
Moreto Bay Chestnut generally has an erect trunk, grey to brown smooth bark, and glossy dark green leaves. The flowers are pea-shaped, yellow to orange in colour and form into clusters. The seed is edible when cooked but requires extensive leeching prior to consumption due to its high saponins content.
Eleocharis dulcis, the Chinese water chestnut or water chestnut is not a nut, but an aquatic vegetable that grows in marshes, under water, in the mud. It has stem-like, tubular green leaves that grow to about 1.5 m (5 ft). The water caltrop, which also is referred to by the same name, is unrelated and often confused with the water chestnut.
The small, rounded corms have a crisp, white flesh and may be eaten raw, slightly boiled, or grilled, and often are pickled or tinned. They are a popular ingredient in Chinese dishes. In China, they are most often eaten raw, sometimes sweetened. They also may be ground into a flour form used for making water chestnut cake, which is common as part ofdim sumcuisine.
Plants are quick-growing and productive, with three to four planted corms yielding 20 to 60 pounds of water chestnuts. Gardeners can grow water chestnuts in large tubs at least 10 inches deep. Containers need a drainage hole and plug.
Removing Chestnuts From Burs
When the nuts are ready to be harvested, the spiny burs split open, revealing a bit of the nuts inside. Some recommend spreading a tarp beneath the tree, which makes it easier to locate and pick up the nuts. But the nuts are just as good if you pick them up from the forest floor. You will want to use thick leather gloves to work with the burs since getting them in your flesh can be painful.
Ideally, you can pop the nuts from the burs by stepping on them. If not, pry open the cracked bur to extract the nuts. It is important to remove the nuts quickly after the burs split open since the chestnuts can get moldy quite quickly. Occasionally, it may be very difficult to get the nuts out of the burs. This may indicate that the nuts are not quite ripe. Set those burs aside for a few days in temperatures between 55 and 65 degrees Farenheit. After this period, they should separate easily.