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Castanea dentata

Object Details

See more items in
Smithsonian Gardens Tree Collection
On Display
National Museum of Natural History
Accession Number
2018-0760A
Description
Once a major component of eastern US forests, the American chestnut is an unfortunate example of how an unchecked plant pathogen can wreak havoc on an entire ecosystem. First noticed in the Bronx in 1904, it is thought that chestnut blight (Chryphonectria parasitica) found its way into North American in an infected shipment of Japanese chestnut rootstock. Japanese and Chinese chestnut trees, having evolved alongside chestnut blight, have resistance to the disease. American chestnut trees however, were unprepared. By 1940, around 3 billion American chestnut trees had been wiped out by the fungus. One of the regions hardest hit by the near disappearance of the chestnut tree was the Appalachians. Prior to chestnut blight, 1 out of every 4 hardwood trees in the region was an American chestnut. People of the region used the tree for its beautiful and easily workable wood, and harvested and sold the nut. In 1912, the value of chestnut timber in three Appalachian states was estimated to be $1.9 billion in today’s dollars. The loss of the tree severely impacted the economic welfare of those communities. Animals of the region were also impacted by the tree’s disappearance; 7 native moth species went extinct, the squirrel population dropped severely, and the previously increasing cougar, Cooper’s hawk, deer, and bobcat populations slowed. Some bird populations dropped, and river quality decreased along with the health of river animals. Chestnut blight drastically altered the American ecosystem and lifestyle of people living within affected areas.
Today, research is being done into developing a blight resistant American chestnut cultivar. In its native range, the tree is almost extinct, remaining alive through saplings that sprout from the stumps of old trees only to die back after a few years, and some chestnuts planted outside of its native range. It is Endangered in Kentucky and Michigan, and a Special Concern in Maine and Tennessee.
The chestnut currently “roasted over an open fire" is the European sweet chestnut.
Hardiness
-20 - 20 F
Bloom Time
June
Ethnobotanical Uses
Nuts sweet and edible.
Provenance
From a cultivated plant not of known wild origin
Topic
Trees
Living Collections
Range
E Canada to NC and E USA
Habitat
Previously in deciduous and mixed forests, 0-1200
Life Form
Deciduous tree
Average Height
50-75'
Bark Characteristics
Brown and ridged
Bloom Characteristics
Male flowers are aromatic and clustered in catkins which are 4-8" long. Female flowers grow in smaller, less noticable catkins.
Fall Color
Yellow
Foliage Characteristics
Simple, oblong-lanceolate, dull green leaves with serrated margins. 6-10" long.
Fruit Characteristics
Small nuts encased in spiny burrs. 2-3" in diameter.
Structure
Round and spreading
Data Source
Smithsonian Gardens
Common Name
American Chestnut
American Sweet Chestnut
Group
[vascular plants]
Class
Equisetopsida
Subclass
Magnoliidae
Superorder
Rosanae
Order
Fagales
Family
Fagaceae
Genus
Castanea
Species
dentata
Restrictions & Rights
Usage conditions apply
GUID
http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ax7be40309b-5819-41df-97a1-b9137f36dbe1
Record ID
ofeo-sg_2018-0760A
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
Photographed by: Hannele Lahti
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