American chestnut

Castanea dentata

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Size

    When exposed to full sunlight, American chestnuts can grow up to 20-30 feet tall. 

  • Habitat

    American chestnut trees are mostly found in wooded areas with acidic soils on dry, well-drained hillsides. Flowering American chestnuts are most likely to be found in areas exposed to a lot of sun, along roadsides, at the edge of the forest, and in areas where a lot of the overstory trees have been removed. 

  • Range

    The American chestnut is native to southern and eastern parts of the United States, particularly along the Appalachian Mountains. It is present in parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania.

  • Lifespan

    American chestnuts that are not blight-resistant live only about five years.
  • Status

    Endangered

The American chestnut was once an abundant native tree that could grow 100 feet tall. Now, threatened by disease, the tree rarely makes it to maturity.

Appearance

The American chestnut has long, canoe-shaped leaves with a prominent lance-shaped tip and hooked teeth around the edges of the leaf. The leaf is dull or “matte” rather than shiny or waxy in texture. American chestnut leaves are long in comparison to their width, and the stems usually have a reddish color.

Predators

The American chestnut is threatened by two diseases, Cryphonectria parasitica (the chestnut blight) and Phytophthora cinnamomi. American chestnuts also have several nonnative insect pests including the Asian gall wasp, which impacts flowering and growth, the Asiatic oak weevil, which defoliates trees and feeds on roots and the gypsy moth, a defoliator of many broadleaf trees.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Flowering American chestnut trees will either have only male flowers or both male and female flowers. A chestnut tree rarely self-pollinates, which means that at least two chestnut trees need to be near each other for viable nut production. Chestnut trees bloom from mid-June to early July, depending on latitude and elevation. 

Did You Know?

  • The American chestnut was once the tallest chestnut tree and could reach 100 feet in height.
  • Scientists have produced a genetically engineered American chestnut that is resistant to the chestnut blight, though it has not yet been introduced into the wild.
  • Spouts rarely survive to maturity and for that reason, the American chestnut is considered to be “functionally extinct” in the wild. 
  • At maturity, the American chestnut produces large quantities of edible nuts that are eaten by people and wildlife alike. 
  • American chestnut wood is a favored resource because it doesn’t rot.

Sources and Additional Information

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Size

    When exposed to full sunlight, American chestnuts can grow up to 20-30 feet tall. 

  • Habitat

    American chestnut trees are mostly found in wooded areas with acidic soils on dry, well-drained hillsides. Flowering American chestnuts are most likely to be found in areas exposed to a lot of sun, along roadsides, at the edge of the forest, and in areas where a lot of the overstory trees have been removed. 

  • Range

    The American chestnut is native to southern and eastern parts of the United States, particularly along the Appalachian Mountains. It is present in parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania.

  • Lifespan

    American chestnuts that are not blight-resistant live only about five years.
  • Status

    Endangered