search

TREES & plants

American chestnut

American chestnut leaves.

The American chestnut was once the king of the forest.  It was a magnificent tree used for lumber and for food.  Then the chestnut blight came in and began to decimate this species in the early 1900's.  The American chestnut is not extinct. It survives in the wild in the form of root systems and stump sprouts.  There are also ongoing efforts to develop trees that are resistant to the disease.

Botanical name: 
Castanea dentata
All Common Names: 
American chestnut
Family (English): 
Beech
Family (Botanic): 
Fagaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Native Locale: 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), 
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4, 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil, 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Season of Interest: 
  • Mid summer, 
  • Early fall, 
  • Mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • White
Shape or Form: 
  • Broad, 
  • Round
Growth Rate: 
  • Moderate, 
  • Fast
More Information: 

Size and Form

50 to 75 feet (even 100) tall and often as wide as tall.

Tree & Plant Care

Difficult to transplant due to a deep taproot.
There are breeding programs working on blight resistant hybrids.
Planting non-resistant trees is not recommended.

Disease, pests, and problems

Chestnut blight has nearly eliminated this species.
Weak wooded and prone to wind damage.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native primarily to the eastern third of the United States from Maine south the the Gulf Coast states.

Bark color and texture 

Bark is shallowly furrowed on young tree; more deeply furrowed on older trees.  Ridges between the furrows are flat-topped.
Gray brown in color with the ridges lighter gray.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Leaves elongated, alternate and simple, with coarsely toothed margins.  Each tooth ends in a bristle tip.
Leaves  dark green in summer.  Fall color is yellow to yellow brown.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Small white, male flowers on a pencil-thin spike (6 inches long).
Female flowers also small and white, in clusters near the base of the male flower spike.
Trees flower in July.  The flowers have a musty odor.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Edible nuts in a husk covered with numerous sharp spines.

Cultivars and their differences 

There are breeding programs working on blight resistant hybrids.

Castanea dentata or American chestnut