Castanea sativa Mill.

sweet chestnut, Spanish chestnut, European chestnut
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Castanea sativa
Elena Torres & Santiago Moreno
Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

Castanea sativa: Appearance of a young chestnut tree at the beginning of autumn

Appearance of a young chestnut tree at the beginning of autumnBranch with alternate, simple, almost parallel-veined leavesBranch with 2 erect male catkinsBranch with an open bur containing 3 chestnuts

Castanea: Ancient Latin name for the chestnut and its fruit

sativus, -a, -um: cultivated


Habit: Deciduous, monoecious sturdy tree up to 30 m tall; stout trunk with brown grooved bark and a broad, rounded crown.

Leaves: alternate, deciduous, simple, with deciduous stipules and a short petiole up to 2 cm long; blade 10-25 cm long x 3-7 cm wide, elliptic with serrate margins; lateral veins almost parallel and highly marked abaxially.

Flowers: unisexual; male flowers in small groups arranged in erect axillary yellowish catkins, each with 5-6 sepals and many stamens; female flowers in groups of 3 located towards the base of the catkins, each group surrounded by an involucre; calyx with 6-8 sepals; gynoecium syncarpous, multicarpellate, plurilocular, with an inferior ovary and several styles.

Fruit: nut-like (chestnut), arranged in groups of 1-3 in a common involucre or capsule shell; involucre (bur) globose and rough, with long, hard spikes; nut (chestnut) widely ovoid, with leathery pericarp, shiny brown outside and paler at the base, with a velvety texture inside, hairy towards the apex, containing one single seed.


It flowers in spring; chestnuts mature in autumn.

Geographic origin

Apparently native to the E Mediterranean, but spread very early by man to the whole Mediterranean. It is considered to have been introduced in very ancient times into the Iberian Peninsula, where it is frequent particularly in the N and the W.


Any similarity between this tree and the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum L.) is only superficial. A little resemblance might be found between the leaves of the chestnut tree and the leaflets of the horse chestnut. Yet, the former are alternate and simple, wheras the latter are opposite and palmate. As regards the "chestnuts," those of the horse chestnut are its seeds, produced in a dehiscent fruit, whereas those of the chestnut are its indehiscent fruits, produced in an involucre.

It is widely cultivated for its valuable timber, used in carpentry and to make posts and barrels, as an ornamental and shade tree, and especially for its edible fruits (chestnuts), which are very rich in carbohydrates and fat and therefore very nutritious. Chestnuts are usually eaten roasted. Its bark has traditionally been used as an astringent because of its high tannin content.

Over the last two centuries Spanish chestnut trees have suffered from the attack of two fungi from Asia, Phytophtora cinnamomi Rands and Cryphonectria parasitica (Murill) M.E. Barr, which cause ink disease and chestnut blight, respectively. Because of this, in plantations for fruit production, C. sativa is grafted on hybrids of C. sativa x C. mollisima Blume and C. sativa x C. dentata (Marshall) Borkh., which are resistant to these diseases.

It is easily propagated from seeds.

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