Chestnut (Castanea) is a genus of tall, deciduous trees in the beech family Fagaceae. Different species of chestnut tree thrive in America, Europe and Asia, all bearing a large nut of the same name as the tree. Chestnuts are the ruddy brown color termed "chestnut." These nuts sprout easily in moist soil and grow fast. If you are just sprouting your nut, however, you have some years to wait before roasting your own chestnuts on the open fire.
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Planting Chestnut Trees
Each chestnut tree produces both male and female flowers, but do not hope to get nuts with only one tree. The trees pollinate only with flowers from a neighboring tree. The chestnuts develop on the trees in prickly cases termed burrs. These often split open and fall to the ground when the nuts are ripe. The nuts have a shiny inner skin protecting the edible meat. All chestnut species require at least several years of growth before the trees begin to produce nuts.
European Chestnut Tree
European chestnut trees grow faster and produce larger nuts -- up to several inches in diameter -- than American chestnut species. The same tree produces two kinds of nuts: chataigniers, which grow three nuts in each burr, and the larger, more valuable marrons. Each marron fills an entire burr itself. One chestnut tree can produce both kinds of nuts. European chestnut trees do not produce nuts until they are 15 years old. At 50 years old, they reach their peak production .
American Chestnut Tree
A hundred years ago, American chestnut trees thrived across the United States, producing both nuts and timber. A virus accidentally introduced into the country in 1904 devastated the trees. Over the next 40 years, 3.5 billion trees died and the American chestnut became virtually extinct. Recently, plant pathologists created a blight-resistant strain. The American Chestnut Foundation hopes to replant the chestnut forests. Trees planted today will yield nuts in 3 to 5 years.
Chinese Chestnut Tree
Asian gardeners have cultivated chestnuts for centuries. Chinese chestnuts (Castanea mollissima) grow to about 40 feet tall in sunny areas. The tree requires well-drained soil and a warm climate. In ideal growing conditions, it will produce nuts in less than 10 years. Chinese chestnuts are disease-resistant. While the chestnut blight fungus is deadly to almost all American chestnut trees, most Chinese chestnuts remain unaffected. Americans hope to improve the disease resistance of American chestnuts by crossing them with the Chinese variety.