Castanea dentata

American chestnut


The Basics

Taxonomy: Kingdom - Plantae (plants). Subkingdom - Viridiplantae (Green plants). Superdivision - embryophyta. Division - Tracheophyta (Vascular plants). Class - Magnoliopsida (dicotyledons). Order - Fagales. Family - Fagaceae. Genus - Castanea Mill. Species - Castanea dentata (Marsh.) Borkh.

Habitat: Found in Eastern N. America - Maine and Ontario to Michigan, Georgia and Arkansas. Typically found on dry, gravelly or rocky, mostly acid soils.


Trees , often massive, formerly to 30 m, now persisting mostly as multistemmed resprouts to 5-10 m because of widespread destruction by blight. Bark gray, smooth when young, furrowed in age. Twigs glabrous. Leaves: petiole (8-)10-30(-40) mm. Leaf blade narrowly obovate to oblanceolate, 90-300 30-100 mm, base cuneate, margins sharply serrate, each tooth triangular, gradually tapering to awn often more than 2 mm, apex acute or acuminate, surfaces abaxially often without stellate trichomes, appearing glabrous but with evenly distributed, minute, multicellular, embedded glands between veins and sparse, straight, simple trichomes concentrated on veins, stellate or tufted trichomes absent. Staminate flowers with conspicuous pistillodes, whitish or yellowish straight hairs in center of flower. Pistillate flowers 3 per cupule. Fruits: cupule 4-valved, enclosing 3 flowers/fruits, valves irregularly dehiscing along 4 sutures at maturity, spines of cupule essentially glabrous, with a few scattered simple trichomes; nuts 3 per cupule, obovate, 18-25 18-25 mm, flattened on 1 or both sides, beak to 8mm excluding styles.


Pathogens: After 1930, most populations of Castanea dentata were nearly destroyed by the chestnut blight, caused by the introduced fungus Cryphonectria parasitica (Murrill) M. E. Barr. Virtually all known natural populations remain infected with the blight, and various studies continue in an effort to find ways to improve growth and vitality of infected trees. The species was widely planted outside of its native range (e.g., Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin), and some of these plantings remain blight-free because of their isolation. One particularly large grove was planted near West Salem, Wisconsin, in 1880, and continuing regeneration through seedlings has been documented (F. L. Paillet and P. A. Rutter 1989). Unfortunately, chestnut blight has recently been discovered in this isolated population and probably is extending to other isolated plantings in the west. As part of the effort to introduce blight-resistant strains of the American chestnut, breeding programs have produced hybrids of Castanea dentata in various combinations with exotic species of chestnut.


Vegetative regeneration - While chestnuts persist in many localities, the plants are mostly resprouts that rarely, if ever, produce viable seed.

Human uses

The American chestnut was one of the most important dominant forest trees of eastern North America prior to 1930. The nuts, sweet and edible, were a favorite confection in the eastern United States. The wood is light, strong, and resistant to decay; it was widely used for construction, furniture, and decorative trim. The bark was used for tanning leather. Native Americans used various parts of the plants of Castanea dentata medicinally as a cough syrup and to treat whooping cough, for heart trouble, and as a powder for chafed skin (D. E. Moerman 1986).

Species Distribution


USDA Plants Database
USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

Plants For A Furture Database
Ken Fern/Plants for a Future (1995-2010). Castanea dentata - (Marshall.)Borkh.

Flora of North America
Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 19+ vols. New York and Oxford.

Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Castenea dentata