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Castanea sativa - Sweet Chestnut

Native to Southern Europe and Asia Minor, Castanea sativa was introduced to this country by the Romans and has been a familiar sight for so long that it is now considered an ‘honorary’ native. It is a fast growing, deciduous tree, typically reaching between 20 and 30m in height, making a handsome specimen in any park or garden.

The leaves are long and lanceolate with a deeply toothed edge. In late June - July, there are catkins up to 20cm in length which bear both the male flowers at the tip and female flowers at the base. When Autumn comes, the female flowers develop into the chestnuts, protected by the spiny outer casing, dropping to the ground as they ripen. The leaves turn a glorious yellow before falling.

For over two thousand years, Castanea sativa has been cultivated for its edible nuts. Historically they were a staple food, either eaten in meals or ground down and used as a flour. They provide a good source of starch and energy - Roman soldiers reputedly ate chestnut porridge before going into battle! In parts of Europe they are still widely eaten and are often used in confectionary and as a delicacy. For an optimum chestnut harvest, the trees need sufficient moisture and a mild climate - a late spring frost can have a detrimental effect to flowering.

FACT: There are 52 sweet chestnuts dating back to the mid 1600’s in Greenwich Park. They were planted in avenues by André le Nôtre for King Charles II. The largest has a girth of 7.26m.
Infusions of the leaves are often used as a remedy for coughs and respiratory disorders.
In Corsica they brew a beer from sweet chestnuts.

Plant Profile

Name: Castanea sativa

Common Name: Sweet Chestnut

Family: Fagaceae

Height: approx. 20-30 metres

Demands: Suited to most conditions . Moderately lime tolerant

Flowers: Long, yellow-white catkins in summer

Foliage: Elongated green leaves with deep, serrated edges. Yellow in autumn

Fruit: Sweet chestnuts - an essential for Christmas time!

Bark: Smooth when young then developing a grooved, net like pattern and spiraling with age

Castanea sativa info sheet

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