* Leaves narrower than they are long, 5-8", dull, dark green above, pale
below. Smooth on both surfaces. Curved, sharply pointed teeth.
* Flowers conspicuous in spring, emerge with leaves.
* Nuts with flattened on one side, contained in prickly husks.
* Height: Historically to 100',but today usually under 15'. Though chestnuts
formerly had broad, rounded crowns, today they barely reach canopy height.
* Habitat: Hardwood forests, wetlands.
* Range: Maine to Georgia.
* "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose..." Chestnuts
are delicious roasted, and they can be bought from street vendors in
many cities as a winter warm-up. However, all of these chestnuts are
now imported from Europe, primarily Italy, or Asia because very few American
chestnut trees reach sexual maturity. Most are killed in the sapling
stage by an Asian fungus, Endothia parasitica, that causes "chestnut
blight". In fact, almost all remaining American chestnuts are root sprouts
from trees whose primary shoots were killed by the fungus in the 1920's
and 30's. The root sprouts are already infected with the blight and the
young trees are doomed before they even begin to grow.
* On Wellesley's campus, root sprouts of American Chestnut can
be found on Water Tower Hill and west of Lake Waban. Chestnut
once composed up to 40 percent of the canopy trees in low elevation
forests of New England.
*"Will the blight end the chestnut?
The farmers rather guess not.
It keeps smoldering at the roots
and sending up new shoots
till another parasite
shall come to end the blight."
* Chestnut wood was once one of America's most valuable hardwoods.
The bark is very rich in tannins and was the principle source
of the substance for tanning leather. Most forest mammals and
many bird species feed on chestnuts. Indeed, the extinct passenger
pigeon fed primarily on this nut, and flocks of millions of birds
would nest where chestnuts were abundant.