- A Large Shrub or Tree (Castanea spp.)
- Are usually Hardy to Zone 5 (Most Species)
- Bearers of Heavy Annual Crops of Sweet Nutritious Nuts
- Excellent Food for Humans and Wildlife
- A Major Agricultural Crop in Many Parts of the World
The U.S. imports 40 million dollars of chestnuts annually. However, a new chestnut industry is developing in the U.S. The number of chestnut growers throughout the U.S. is growing.
Chestnut Species (Castanea)
* 3 chestnuts per bur
- American (C. dentata) *
- Chinese (C. mollissima) *
- Japanese (C. crenata) * var.
- European (C. sativa) *
- Seguin (C. seguinii) *
- Allegany Chinkapin
- Henry (C. henryi)
Even though the Castanea are divided into separate species, all of the species will cross with each other and produce viable offspring. These "mules" are often male-sterile and fail to produce pollen, but the female flowers are capable of receiving pollen and will produce viable nuts. The genetics of this male sterility is not understood; sometimes fertility is restored in subsequent generations and sometimes it is not.
"Named cultivars" are grafted clones of trees whose characteristics are desirable for many reasons. Since they are genetically identical, and chestnuts will not self-pollinate, two or more cultivars (or some seedlings, which are all different) must be planted to provide pollen for each other. Cultivars are grafted onto compatible rootstocks and are sold by many nurseries. Information on nut size has not been systematically collected in all of the U.S. growing regions for cultivars, so the list of named cultivars has only general information for most.
Some cultivars are simply selections of species trees that were superior, but others are the result of controlled or accidental breeding of several trees. Our first records of crosses between chestnut species typify the whole history of chestnut breeding in the U.S.: the work was done by both an interested amateur and by a professional botanist. George W. Endicott of Villa Ridge, Illinois was growing 'Japan Giant' at the end of the last century, and used pollen from an American chestnut tree to produce Japanese x American hybrids in 1895. One of these hybrids produced six burs in its second year and was named 'Daniel Boone'. This tree was reported to be strongly self-fertile, which is rare in chestnut, and has unfortunately now been lost. The other early hybridization work was done by Dr. Walter Van Fleet, then an associate editor of the Rural New Yorker Magazine. In 1894 he used pollen of American chestnut on flowers of the European (or European-American) cultivar 'Paragon' and planted the progeny in Little Silver, New Jersey. Van Fleet went on to make thousands of crosses, using many species, between 1900 and 1921. For his early crosses he used the native chinquapin C. pumila and European and Japanese cultivars. In his later work he included Chinese chestnuts, C. mollissima Bl. Wild seed of "Castanea species" collected in Tientsin, China were imported by the US Department of Agriculture (as PI#34517) and planted in 1912 at their Bell (Maryland) Experimental Plot. Van Fleet had over 900 of these trees to observe and use there, in addition to subsequent importations.
The contribution of many interested nut growers has been very important in U.S. chestnut cultivar development, both in spurring on the scientists and in educating the public. In Connecticut, physicians R. T. Morris and W. C. Deming planted many kinds of chestnuts and experimented with crosses and culture. Fred Ashworth in New York and Alfred Szego on Long Island, and many other faithful members of the Northern Nut Growers have contributed immeasurably. Arthur Graves bred chestnuts for Connecticut, and some of our better northern cultivars are the results of his efforts. In the west, Luther Burbank, Felix Gillet, and J. U. Gellatly imported many trees and made selections suitable for their climates.
A complete list of chestnut cultivars has been compiled and is maintained by Sandra Anagnostakis, the international registrar for chestnuts. The cultivar list includes the following information about each cultivar:
Origin (where the tree came from),
Named (where it was named or who named it),
Diseases (indicators are "r" for resistant, "rr" for exceptionally resistant, "s" for susceptible),
Ease of Pellicle Removal,
Click HERE for the chestnut cultivar list. It is in PDF format so you may download the entire listing or individual pages. You may also search for a particular cultivar.