What Is Wormy Chestnut?

Sonal Panse

Wormy chestnut is insect-damaged chestnut lumber from the American chestnut tree. The cause of the damage is the chestnut timber borer beetle, which lays its eggs in the bark of the chestnut tree. The resulting larvae eat and tunnel their way through the live tree bark until the adult beetle eventually emerges in the spring. Despite the wormy holes, the excellent quality and longevity of the chestnut wood make it ideal for making furniture, fences, poles, flooring, home construction and a host of other things.

Since new wood from American chestnut trees is no longer procurable for lumber, the chestnut wood in stock has gone up in value.
Since new wood from American chestnut trees is no longer procurable for lumber, the chestnut wood in stock has gone up in value.

Known botanically as Castanea dentata, the American chestnut is a deciduous and fast-growing tree of quite impressive proportions; some of these trees have been reported to attain heights of 150 feet (45.72 m), with diameters of 10 feet (3.048 m) and spreads of 100 feet (30.48 m). The Castanea dentata species were once widespread throughout the eastern parts of the United States and the southeastern parts of Canada, and the chestnut lumber once rivaled that of oak and other hardwoods on the commercial front. The chestnut wood is hard, very finely grained and quite easy to saw, and, in addition, the American chestnut grows very fast and matures sooner than the oak. In the 1920s, however, most of the chestnut trees on the American continent were killed off by a fungal blight, and the very few American chestnuts that still remain are now protected from logging.

Much of the wormy chestnut wood that is available now comes from the existing dead wood of these blight affected trees. In many cases, the chestnut wood can also be salvaged and refashioned from old barns, buildings and other structures. The reason the old wood is found to still be in usable condition is explained by the presence of tannin in the wormy chestnut wood; the tannin gives the wood a natural resistance to decay.

Since new wood from American chestnut trees is no longer procurable for lumber, the chestnut wood in stock has gone up in value. The natural rustic look of the wormy chestnut wood can be quite attractive and is much prized by homeowners as well as antique collectors. Wormy chestnut furniture, flooring, structures and other items can therefore be quite expensive. If the original wormy chestnut wood is beyond the budget, it might help to check out the more affordable faux wood that has been treated and fashioned to resemble the real worm-ridden wood; there are quite a few wood companies around that offer these products.

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Discussion Comments


@pastanaga - There are still American chestnuts around, but very few and none of them are as large as the giants of the past. Those still provide reclaimed wormy chestnut wood.

But, there are groups of people who are trying to breed blight resistant strains of the chestnut. Some of my friends were interested in it, as they lived outside the main area of the blight and knew of a couple of chestnut trees around.

It's difficult, though, because even though they grow quite fast, it still takes a while to grow a tree to maturity so it can be pollinated and provide seed. Each experiment in trying to bring back the American chestnut takes a few years to conduct.

One day, though, people may be able to use freshly grown chestnut hardwood without pulling it up from a reclaimed barn or something.


It was an absolute tragedy that the fungal blight killed off most of the American chestnut trees. To be honest, I thought it had killed off all of them. I had no idea they weren't extinct!

It was a blight from Europe I believe, that was brought to the States by settlers, and spread among trees that had no resistance to it.

These trees used to be absolutely massive. They could provide chestnuts for whole areas of forest. I imagine they were probably logged quite a lot for the wormy chestnut lumber as well.

But if you look online, you can still find the pictures of people standing next to them, dwarfed by the enormous trunks.

It just makes me sad that something so beautiful was destroyed by carelessness and ignorance.

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