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What Is a Chinese Chestnut?

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  • Written By: O. Parker
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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The Chinese chestnut is a large deciduous tree native to China and Korea. The Chinese chestnut is in the family Fagaceae and is identified under the scientific name Castanea mollissima. The tree produces edible seeds called chestnuts. The Chinese chestnut tree is planted as a specimen tree and a shade tree, as an ornamental and for chestnut production.

With a height typically ranging from 35 to 40 feet (about 9 to 12 meters) and a spread of 40 to 50 feet (about 12 to 15 meters), the Chinese chestnut tree's large, spreading canopy provides good shade. The tree produces showy white or cream-colored flowers followed by the development of hard seeds, or chestnuts. This tree makes a good specimen tree, though the round seeds pose a danger in pedestrian areas. The falling seeds also can be considered undesirable litter in urban areas.

Chinese chestnut trees grow well in full sun or part shade, though full sun is preferred. Ideal soil conditions are acidic or slightly alkaline sandy loam with good drainage, though clay is tolerated. Chinese chestnut trees can tolerate mild drought conditions as well as heat and humidity. This tree transplants easily when young. Once established, transplanting success declines.

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The tree's chestnuts range from around 1 to 3 inches (about 2.5 to 8 cm) in size and are hard to the touch. As the chestnuts develop, they are covered in a soft, green spiny casing called an involucre. Once ripe, the seeds fall to the ground, where they can be collected. The seeds usually drop out of the spiny casing when they fall. Roasted chestnuts are edible and considered a treat by some.

When growing Chinese chestnut trees specifically for chestnut production, or if an abundant harvest is desired from a primarily landscape tree, it is best to plant at least two trees in the same area. Though the trees do not require cross pollination to produce nuts, it does increase production. Bees and other pollinators transfer pollen between the trees when the flowers are out.

One advantage of planting a Chinese chestnut over other species is its moderate resistance to the chestnut blight fungus, Endothia parasitica. North American native chestnut trees have been severely affected by chestnut blight. Asian species show more resistance to the disease, making them a more popular choice for planting. Chestnut blight affects the branches and the trunk, eventually killing the tree. This tree also can be affected by leaf spot, which is caused by a fungal infection, and weevils.

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