Chestnut is the name of about 12 species of trees with spreading branches. Chestnut trees grow in parts of North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. They bear spiny burs that contain edible, starchy nuts. The Chinese, Japanese, and European chestnuts are grown commercially for the nuts they produce.

The American chestnut was once the most important forest tree in the Eastern United States. This large tree was found from central Maine, along the Appalachian Mountains, and westward to the Mississippi River. From 1905 to 1940, a fungal disease called chestnut blight killed most of these trees in North America. The disease probably entered the United States in the 1890's from China or Japan. American chestnuts grow more than 70 feet (21 meters) tall. In the past, people valued the American chestnut for its decay-resistant wood, the tannin (a substance used to tan leather) it supplied, and the nuts it produced. Chestnut wood was widely used for railroad ties, telephone and telegraph poles, fence posts, lumber, furniture, and woodwork. The chinquapin, a small tree or shrub related to the American chestnut, grows in Oklahoma and the Southeast. Each bur of this species contains only one small nut.

Scientific classification. Chestnuts are in the beech family, Fagaceae. The American chestnut is Castanea dentata. The chinquapin is C. pumila.

Contributor: Richard A. Jaynes, Ph.D., Horticulturalist and Consultant, Broken Arrow Nursery.

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