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Home > Resources > North Carolina Trees > American Chestnut

American Chestnut

(Castanea dentata (Marsh.) Borkh.)


The chestnut blight (caused by a fungus, Endothia parasitica) practically has destroyed the American chestnut throughout its range. This is an irreplaceable loss to some landowners in the mountains where as much as 1/3 of the timber in some areas was chestnut. The blight was introduced about 1906 and within a few decades covered the entire range of the chestnut. The trees were fast-growing, long-lived and sprouted profusely from the stump when cut. During the past 70 years, many of the old stumps repeatedly have grown sprouts.

Occasionally, the sprouts grow to 15 or 20 feet and produce a few fruits, but the blight kills the sprouts repeatedly.

This stump-sprouting gives hope that the species eventually may become immune to the blight; however, most pathologists believe the chestnut is doomed and that the only hope is to produce resistant hybrids.

Many of the better sites previously occupied by chestnut now contain yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), a species that is very valuable.

In the Southern states, the chestnut was native to the foothills and mountains. It was one of our most useful trees and, as such, was called the "farmer's best friend. "

Chestnut's long, pointed leaves are quite distinctive; they are simple and alternate, dark green in color and average 5 to 8 inches in length. They have coarse teeth, each of which bears a slender spine. Both male and female flowers are found on the same trec. The long, slender, whitish catkins (scaly, bracted spikes) open in mid-summer.

The fruit of the chestnut is a prickly burr, that opens at the first frost (or earlier) and drops two or three shiny, large, brown, sweet, edible nuts. These nuts make excellent wildlife food. Chestnut bark breaks into light gray, broad, flat ridges that often form a spiral around the trunk.

The wood is much like oak -- coarse-grained but lacks the distinct rays of oak, and very resistant to decay. It is so resistant that wood from some larger trees dead for more than 50 years still may be used.

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