11 Different Types of Chestnut Trees

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11 Types of Chestnut Trees

Chestnut trees have stood proud in our landscape since Roman times. They provide sustenance for both wildlife and us humans, producing edible nuts and pollen-filled flowers that many wildlife species simply adore!

Many of us know of the sweet chestnut tree and the horse chestnut, but few could name a type of chestnut tree beyond this.

So, in this blog post, we’ll explore the 11 types of chestnut trees, from the well-known sweet and American chestnuts to the more unusual varieties, like the Seguin chestnut and Ozark chinkapin.

1. Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa)

When we think of sweet chestnuts, many of us are immediately transported to Christmas. These beautiful, deciduous trees produce the sweet, buttery nuts that we love to roast and eat at Christmas. 

Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa)

Sweet chestnuts were first introduced in the UK by the Romans and have been a favourite in gardens, parks, woods, and copses ever since. These trees can live for 700 years and grow up to 35 m tall, making them an excellent ornamental addition to a large garden. 

These trees hold a significant role when it comes to wildlife, providing a valuable source of pollen and nectar for bees and other pollinating insects, and red squirrels simply love the nuts! Many moth species also feed on the nuts and foliage. 

2. Japanese Chestnut (Castanea crenata)

The Japanese chestnut is a much smaller chestnut variety that typically grows to around 9 m tall. However, don’t let this leave you disinterested, as this is the perfect tree for a small or medium-sized garden where space is limited. 

Japanese Chestnut (Castanea crenata)

This tree is known for its disease resistance, particularly to blight fungus, a pervasive problem that kills many chestnut trees. It has also gained much popularity for its nuts, which are covered in a thick, green-brown husk called a “bur.” These nuts are particularly popular in Japan for their nutty, sweet taste, and are often used in both sweet and savoury dishes.

3. Dwarf Chestnut Tree (Castanea pumila)

The dwarf chestnut tree gets its name from its uncharacteristically small height for a chestnut. But don’t let that fool you – it still stands tall at up to 9 m high and 6 m wide. 

Dwarf Chestnut Tree (Castanea pumila)

The dwarf chestnut tree is the prime choice if you want a specimen tree for a garden of any size. You can use it to create a shady spot for a bench or swing or over your lawn to keep your furry friends cool in hot weather!

Indigenous people have been eating dwarf chestnuts for centuries. But they’re not the only ones who enjoy the dwarf chestnut’s sweet nuts. In its native region – eastern and central United States – bluejays, opossums, squirrels, chipmunks, pileated woodpeckers, red-headed woodpeckers, and white-tailed deer also feast on all this tree has to give! 

4. American Chestnut (Castanea dentata)

For a long time, the American chestnut was known as the tallest, fastest-growing, and largest tree in US forests, with around four billion of them in total in the US alone. Due to these valuable qualities, the American chestnut quickly became a staple in US gardens and rural landscapes. 

American Chestnut (Castanea dentata)

It was also extremely popular for its wood, which is straight-grained and resistant to rot. Originally, people thought that it was an exceptional choice for building materials, fencing, and furniture, so they used it in abundance. 

Unfortunately, in the 1800s, the blight fungus Cryphonectria parasitica took hold and decimated the highly susceptible American chestnut. Despite this, the American chestnut isn’t extinct.  Blight fungus is unable to kill its root system as it is outcompeted by the microorganisms in the soil. However, American chestnuts are no longer widely grown.

5. Chinese Chestnut Tree (Castanea mollissima)

In stark contrast to the American chestnut is the Chinese chestnut tree. This tree is tiny compared to the American chestnut, growing 12 m in height. However, this quality improves the Chinese chestnut tree’s versatility, as its size makes it the ideal ornamental tree for small or medium-sized gardens. 

Chinese Chestnut Tree (Castanea mollissima)

The Chinese chestnut also has the advantage of fruiting early. Many chestnuts, such as the sweet and American chestnuts, don’t produce nuts for 20 years or more. But the Chinese chestnut produces nuts as early as four years after planting, so it’s the best choice if you want delicious chestnuts quickly!

6. Dunstan Chestnut (Castanea dentata X mollissima)

The Dunstan chestnut is a hybrid of the American and Chinese chestnut trees and, as a result, possesses some of the characteristics of both. 

Dunstan Chestnut (Castanea dentata X mollissima)

It produces many large, sweet-tasting nuts each year after only 3-5 years of being planted – this is much earlier than its parent plants. The nuts are far smaller than both those produced by its parent plants and are said to taste better. 

The Dunstan chestnut shares its American parent’s fast-growing quality. But luckily, it has taken the Chinese chestnut’s blight resistance, making it much hardier and, therefore, easier to grow. 

7. Henry’s Chestnut (Castanea henryi)

Henry’s chestnut, also known as the pearl chestnut, originates from central and southeast China and is widely cultivated in these regions. 

Henry’s Chestnut (Castanea henryi)

It is closely related to the Chinese chestnut but has many distinctive characteristics that make it unique. For example, it has long-narrow, lance-shaped leaves with prominent serrations on the edges. Its nuts are also smaller than other chestnut species.

This tree was given its name to honour Dr Augustine Henry, an Irish doctor and botanist who made many significant contributions to the study of plants in China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

8. Ozark Chinkapin (Castanea ozarkensis)

The Ozark chinkapin is native to the US and is most commonly found in the Ozark Mountains and the Ouachita Mountains in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. 

Ozark Chinkapin (Castanea ozarkensis)

Historically, the Ozark chinkapin was treasured for its nuts, which provided food for early settlers, indigenous people, and many small mammals like chipmunks, eastern grey squirrels, turkey, white-tailed deer, and bobwhite quail.

Unfortunately, like the American chestnut, this tree is susceptible to chestnut blight and has been largely wiped out in America. Now, you’ll typically only find it growing as a  shrub or small tree. 

9. Chinknut (Castanea x neglecta)

Chinknut is a deciduous tree native to the southeastern United States. It’s a cross between the American Chestnut and Dwarf Chestnut trees, taking the latter’s growth habit. It grows to around 4 m tall and 4 m wide and does so at a slow pace!

Chinknut (Castanea x neglecta)

If you want to grow the chinknut in your garden, here are some things to know: it doesn’t matter whether the soil it sits in is sandy, loamy, or clay-based, but this tree requires good drainage to survive. It can also handle nutrient-poor soil and drought, making it a great, hardy option for a UK garden. 

10. Seguin Chestnut (Castanea seguinii)

The Seguin chestnut is a medium-sized tree that rarely exceeds 12 m in height. It has a couple of distinctive characteristics that set it apart from other chestnut varieties. For starters, its nuts are small, fitting three to a bur. Secondly, some Seguin chestnuts are ever-flowering. 

Seguin Chestnut (Castanea seguinii)

What does this mean? Put simply, the Seguin chestnut continues to flower throughout the summer, causing its nuts to ripen for a long time over autumn.

The Seguin chestnut is not a well-known variety and isn’t grown commercially, so you’ll likely only find it in its native region, south-central and southeast China. 

11. Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

Horse chestnuts are a blast from many of our pasts, as conkers were a traditional game many of us in the UK played as children. I still remember threading a conker onto a piece of string and taking it in turns with my sister to hit each other’s conkers until they broke. 

Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

Besides childhood games, you may have also found conkers lying around your house, as old folklore states that conkers repel spiders. However, unfortunately, there is little scientific evidence to back this up. 

You’re probably wondering why the horse chestnut was so far down this list. But here’s a fun fact for you: horse chestnuts aren’t in the chestnut family at all. Instead, they’re from the soapberry family, along with maples and lychee. This makes them a bit of an intruder on this list.  

However, they just had to have a mention! After all, who doesn’t love a horse chestnut tree?

Summary

Chestnut trees come in an array of sizes, making some better suited to UK gardens than others. While the American chestnut grows to lofty heights, it’s also susceptible to blight fungus, rendering it practically useless in UK gardens. However, the smaller dwarf, Japanese and Chinese chestnuts make the perfect addition to a typical small or medium-sized outdoor space. 

If you’re looking to eat the fruits of your labour, though, the sweet chestnut is your prime choice. With a sweet, nutty taste that reminds many of us of Christmas, this tree will add a touch of nostalgia to any garden. 

If you enjoyed this and want to learn more about trees that produce tasty treats, you’ll love our blog post, 50 Different Types of Fruit Trees.

FAQs

What are the different types of chestnut trees?

The most common types of chestnut trees are the sweet chestnut, American chestnut, Japanese chestnut, dwarf chestnut, and Chinese chestnut. The lesser-known chestnut trees include Henry’s chestnut, Ozark chinkapin, and the hybrid trees: Dunstan chestnut and the chinknut.

Despite popular belief, the horse chestnut is not a member of the chestnut family, but instead the soapberry family, along with lychee and maples.

What kind of chestnut tree do I have?

Sweet chestnuts and horse chestnuts both produce brown nuts. However, sweet chestnuts are pointed at the tip, whereas horse chestnuts are rounded and smooth – they have no point. 

How do I identify a European chestnut tree?

You can identify a European chestnut from its leaves, bark, flowers, and nuts. European chestnuts have highly distinguishable toothed leaves with prominent serrations along the edges. The leaves have an elongated shape with a rounded base, and the leaf stem is long and thin. 

The nuts from the European chestnut tree are around 1 – 2 inches in diameter and are rounded in shape but have a flattened bottom and pointed tip. These tend to be larger than other chestnut tree nuts, like the American chestnut. 

What kind of chestnuts are not edible?

Sweet chestnuts are edible. Horse chestnuts, on the other hand, are poisonous and will cause digestive upset if you eat them, including nausea, sickness, tummy pain, and a scratchy throat. 

The nuts from other chestnut trees may be edible. However, it’s important to take caution – some of the hybrids and wild varieties of chestnuts are toxic, so only eat a chestnut if you’re sure it’s safe to do so. 

What is the best chestnut variety?

The best and most widely grown chestnut tree is the sweet chestnut. This is known for its large, flavourful nuts, which we commonly roast and eat at Christmas time. It’s also loved for its longevity, living for up to 700 years, and its lofty height of 35 metres.

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