Content Detail

The American chestnut was once the king of the forest. It was a magnificent tree used for lumber and for food. Chestnut blight 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.

  • Family (English) Beech
  • Family (botanic) Fagaceae
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • 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 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances clay soil, Dry sites
  • Season of interest midsummer, early fall, mid fall
  • Flower color and fragrance White
  • Shape or form Broad, Round
  • Growth rate Fast, Moderate

Size and form:

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

Native geographic location and habitat:

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

Bark color and texture:

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

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:

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

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

Small white male flowers on a 6 inch long pencil-thin spike. Female flowers are 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 form in husks covered with numerous sharp spines.

Plant care:

The American chestnut is difficult to transplant due to a deep taproot. They are weakly wooded and prone to wind damage. Chestnut blight has nearly eliminated this species. Planting non-resistant trees is not recommended. There are breeding programs working on blight resistant hybrids.

There are breeding programs working on blight resistant hybrids.


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