American Chestnut
Castanea dentata
Family Castanea

* 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.

Natural History:
* Habitat: Hardwood forests, wetlands.
* Range: Maine to Georgia.
* Native.

* "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."
-Robert Frost

* 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.


Created by: Allaire Diamond and Jiasuey Hsu
Maintained by: Nick Rodenhouse
Created: July 31, 1998
Last Modified: November 21, 2008