Sweet Chestnut, Castanea sativa

The Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa), is also known as the Spanish Chestnut or European Chestnut. It is originally native to southeastern Europe and Asia Minor. As early as Roman times it was introduced into more northerly regions, and later it was cultivated in monastery gardens by monks. Today, centuries-old specimens may be found in Great Britain and the whole of central and western Europe. The tree requires a mild climate and adequate moisture for good growth and a good nut harvest. It is sensitive to late spring and early autumn frosts, and is intolerant of lime. Under forest conditions it will tolerate moderate shade well.

It is a medium-sized to large deciduous tree attaining a height of 65 to 115 feet with a trunk often 80 inches in diameter. The oblong, boldly toothed leaves are 6 to 11 inches long and 2 to 3.5 inches broad. The flowers of both sexes are borne in 4 to 8 inches long, upright catkins, the male flowers in the upper part and female flowers in the lower part. They appear in late June to July, and by autumn, the female flowers develop into spiny cupules containing 3-7 brownish nuts that are shed during October. The bark often has a net-shaped pattern with deep furrows or fissures running spirally in both directions up the trunk.

Sweet Chestnut is widely cultivated for its edible nuts. The nuts are used by confectioners and are also eaten roasted. They are popular in Turkey, Portugal, France, Italy and particularly in Corsica. They may be roasted whole or ground to make flour. The durable wood is used to make furniture, barrels (sometimes used to age balsamic vinegar), fencing and roof beams in some houses in Spain. Due to its tendency to split and warp badly, it is not used in large pieces. The bark also provides tannin.

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