1125 Castanea mollissimaCommon Names: Chinese chestnut Family: Fagaceae (beech Family)
The Chinese chestnut is a handsome, wide spreading deciduous tree grown as an ornamental shade tree and for its edible nuts. The leaves are about 6 in (15 cm) long and coarsely toothed on the margins. The male flowers are hanging catkins and the female flowers produce 1-5 edible nuts, tightly enclosed in a prickly burr. The burr (technically an involucre) splits open at maturity to release the 1 in (2.5 cm) nuts. Chinese chestnut can reach 70 ft (21 m) tall and has a crown that can spread 70 ft (21 m) across. Older trees have a stout trunk and attractive bark with spiraling furrows. Cultivars selected for large nuts include 'Nanking', 'Meiling', and 'Kuling'. 'Kelsey' is a smaller tree that produces smaller, but sweeter nuts.
Castanea mollissima is probably native to northern China and the Korean peninsula, but its exact geographic origin is uncertain because it has been cultivated for so long and so widely.
CultureLight: Chestnuts do best in full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Moisture: Chestnut trees like a slightly acidic, loamy soil that drains well. They tolerate even dry, sandy soils, and are relatively drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 8. Chinese chestnut grows best where summers are hot and long. Propagation: Superior trees are propagated by grafting or bud grafting onto seedlings. Nuts must be planted when fresh (not allowed to dry out) and will take several months to germinate.
Chinese chestnut is a very attractive tree that would be grown for its ornamental value alone even if it didn't produce delicious nuts. The one drawback is that the prickly burrs which drop over an extended period make it a punishing ordeal to walk barefoot under the tree. Chestnuts are relished by larger birds, squirrels and other mammals. For human consumption, they are usually roasted or candied like those of the related Spanish chestnut (Castanea sativa).
The Chinese chestnut is resistant (not immune) to chestnut blight (Endothia parasitica), a fungus disease that first appeared in the United States around 1905 and has since virtually wiped out the native American chestnut (Castanea dentata).
The Dunstan Hybrid chestnut was produced by crossing the American and Chinese chestnuts, then backcrossing the progeny to another American chestnut. Dunstan Hybrids are immune to chestnut blight, produce large crops of excellent nuts (said to be better than Chinese chestnuts), and bear in just 4-5 years. If you want a superior chestnut tree that produces excellent quality nuts, check out the Dunstan Hybrids from Chestnut Hill Nursery in Alachua, Florida.
Steve Christman 12/14/10