Plant & Flower Identification

What Does A Chestnut Look Like? Not All Are The Same

Chestnut fruits are among the most favorable and popular edibles, spicing every meal with strong and nutty flavors. But what does a chestnut look like?

I used to believe every soul on Earth had seen – or at least heard of – these savory dishes; words cannot express how surprised I was when one of my friends told me he did not even know what chestnut look like!

For those wondering about their appearance, my article is for you. Keep scrolling to learn more about these amazing trees/fruits and how to take care of them.

What Does A Chestnut Look Like?

what does a chestnut look like
Chestnut Look Like

What do chestnuts look like? 

Although the nuts look mostly the same (oblong or round, with pointed tips), I am delighted to spot numerous palpable differences in other features like leaves and twigs.

Let’s delve into the specific attributes of each types of chestnuts trees, including Japanese, European, Chinese, and American species:

American Chestnut (Castanea Dentate) 

Mature American chestnut trees are less common within these native ranges, mostly found as shrubby sprout clusters or understory, slender trees below 18m tall.

  • Twigs: Smooth with a chestnut-brown, reddish color
  • Buds: Brown, smooth, bullet-shaped, and asymmetrical, usually askew
  • American chestnut leaves: Hairless (if there are any hairs, they are few and short) on mid-vein lower surfaces. They are oblong with pointed tips and acute bases, joining coarsely-toothed margin petioles with their hooks.

When these leaves mature, they turn paper-thin and light grin, drooping from the wig. Buds blossom at each branch’s end point, producing three nuts (maximum) per bur.

Chinese Chestnut (Castanea Mollissima) 

These Chinese chestnut trees have a wide resistance range, from the most susceptible (like American chestnuts) to the most resistant. Some cultivars have amazing strength against cold temperatures.

In most cases, Chinese chestnuts are recognized by their:

  • Leaves: Thick, coarsely, leathery, and serrated, with hairy lower surface
  • Shape: Oval 
  • Twigs: buff-yellow to greenish-brown, downy
  • Buds: black to dull brown, tan and hairy; feeling flat and rounded against their stems. Each bur has 2 to 3 nuts, 1.87-5 cm in size, rounded and hairy-tipped. Sunburst patterns are uncommon.

Japanese Chestnut/ Korean Chestnut (Castanea Crenata) 

These are my favorite, partly for their strong resistance against ink disease and chestnut blight. I can identify them easily through these tell-tale features: 

  • Leaves: Shiny, dark green (the top) with parallel sides. Their lower surfaces are covered with sparse or dense hairs and numerous glands. Instead of the usual cut teeth, their leaf margins arrive with bristle-shaped projections.
  • Twigs: reddish, dark brown, downy, and delicate. They grow smoother over time.
  • Buds: round-shaped, brown, and glossy. Their nuts (two to three per bur) have medium-large sizes (2.5-5 cm). Their pells are solid, hard to pull off, and become bitter as the nuts reach their ripening stage.

European Chestnut (Castanea Sativa)

European chestnuts or Sweet Chestnut stand straight and tall. It is similar with their American counterparts, however it is not native to the United States.

  • Leaves: parallel with the petiole joint points, with long hair on both the upper and lower surface veins. They stand almost straight from their twigs.
  • Teeth: sharp/rounded, big, and triangular. There are usually no hooks.
  • Twigs: Downy, brown, coarse, and thick. As the twigs grow, they get smoother.
  • Nuts: Similar-sized to American chestnuts (2-3 nuts for each bur).

Are There Chestnut Trees With Inedible Nuts? Difference Between Horse Chestnuts and Edible Chestnuts

chestnut look like
Are There Chestnut Trees Eating Nuts

I have learned the hard way that not all chestnuts are edible. A particular type of nut known as the “horse chestnut” or “aesculus hippocastanum” or “buckeye tree” contains saponins which are so toxic that not even my pet dog can digest them.

Though the differences between horse chestnuts and sweet/edible fruits do not seem obvious initially, I have eventually pinpointed some key variations in their fruit shells, flowers, leaves, and shape: 

Fruits

Horse or bitter chestnuts produce fruits with a distinct and recognizable spherical shape.

Meanwhile, most sweet chestnuts I harvest are taper and flatten, with pointed ends surrounded by brushy hairs. Take note!

Pericarp

The two spiny casings look identical at first – but hold on. Be patient and look closer: even my five-year-old child can spot the differences!

More specifically, inedible horse chestnuts arrive with leathery husks covered in pointed, spare spines resembling thorns.

On the contrary, edible nut husks are littered thickly with a needle-like layer of spines!

Leaves

Do the nut shapes and pericarps confuse you? Then I suggest investigating their leaves instead.

Leaves on horse chestnuts are palmate, with 5-7 lobes suitable for decorative usage. My cousin’s balconies are filled to the brim with them!

On the other hand, sweet chestnut trees have much simpler leaves – either lanceolate or ovate.

Their serrated edges are among the most distinctive features, easily setting them apart from horse chestnut leaves.

Blossoms

Has spring already come around your town? Then most chestnut trees must have already been blooming; time to investigate their flowers! 

On a horse chestnut tree, I often see branched white flower clusters that stay upright, cementing them as a great decorative ornamental for festive occasions.

Meanwhile, sweet chestnut flowers are more inconspicuous, with a strong resemblance to willow catkins.

Even their flowering timing differs. My family often sees horse trees blossoming around April-June, while sweet chestnut flowers usually turn up from June to July.

How to Take Care of Chestnut Trees?

As a gardener, I agree that chestnut trees are among the easiest plants/flowers to grow and care for. But that doesn’t give you an excuse to neglect or slack off in their maintenance! 

Here are some old but gold tips that chestnut growers should keep in mind:

Use Tree Shelters

I use plastic mesh and wire to make shelters for my trees, though you can also use other materials (piled brush, for instance) to safeguard them against wandering animals.

Remember to avoid solid plastic at all costs; they prevent proper dormancy for the chestnuts in fall and even lead to distorted growth.

Worse, they are notorious for harboring wasps, providing perfect environments for rodents/squash bugs to develop and eat away the bark!

You can follow my tips on killing squash bugs with Sevin Dust, then.

Water Them Often

Unless there is frequent rainfall, always keep a consistent watering schedule of at least once per week.

For each go, about one gallon per tree will be enough (though in hot summer, a second round of watering may be needed, at least in my case).

Also, mow the soil around your fresh chestnuts

I suggest keeping a circle 3 feet wider than the chestnuts’ diameter to protect them from stray weeds, grass, lawnmowers, and any other weed-whacker harm. 

For people concerned about water retention, adding mulch is a viable solution. But remember:

  • Never make it deeper than 2 inches.
  • Never set it against the trunk. Otherwise, those annoying rodents will have easier access when winter comes!

Fertilize Them (Only in Spring)

Fertilization is welcomed, but not during the chestnut’s first year; put it off until the trees enter their second season!

Why this advice? Simple: At this point, the tree will pool most of its energy into strengthening the root system for its new residence, and adding fertilizer is a great way to speed up and encourage that process.

Regarding fertilizer ratio, I usually use 10-10-10 or 5-10-5 per year (tree age), or 1 pound for each diameter inch.

Prune The Chestnuts

Pruning will work best in late winter (as the chestnuts are dormant) or early summer (not after July’s first week, though) when it’s dry and hot, significantly reducing infection risks.

As the chestnuts keep growing, I often remove the lower limbs to control their shapes better – quite similar to how I trim blue spruce.

About one-third of the foliage can be cut off each year without bringing any real harm.

How To Harvest and Store Chestnuts

what is a chestnut look like
Harvest and Store Chestnuts

Do chestnuts taste good? A thousand times, yes! To savor the heavenly chestnuts taste, keep my advice in mind: 

Harvesting/Storing Steps

Chestnuts are often harvestable from September to October – and trust me, there are no other fruits as easy to harvest and store as these nuts! Trace along my guide: 

  • Step 1. Wait until the chestnuts fall on the ground.
  • Step 2. Pick up all open-burred nuts (get a pair of gloves while doing so)
  • Step 3. Remove all nuts from those open burrs, and throw away chestnuts with damage signals or wormholes.
  • Step 4. Store your roasted chestnuts in airtight containers to freeze or refrigerate.

And that’s it. Easy as a piece of cake! 

Extra Tips

  • Be mindful of squirrels: Pick the nuts right after they fall. Such tactics preserve their qualities while also keeping them from those chestnut-loving squirrels.
  • Do not shell them until necessary: It only takes water chestnuts one week to dry out after being taken off their shells. To keep them 100% fresh, only shell the chestnuts right before usage.
  • Watch out for the rattle: Shake the raw chestnuts to test their freshness. Rattling sounds mean they are too dry and cannot be eaten! 
  • Sorting them: While sorting chestnuts, I often look for heavy, glossy, and smooth shells – tell-tale signals of the best chestnut taste!

Conclusion

What does a chestnut look like? Are all chestnuts edible? I hope any lingering questions you have are properly addressed in my article.

Good luck with your chestnut growing and harvesting – and if you still struggle with the question, What does chestnut look like?, remember I’m always here for consultations!

Samuel Mark

Hello I am Samuel. Samuel's Garden is a garden blog where I share my experiences in garden caring and tree growth. Hope you enjoy it!

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