Chinese Chestnut (Castenea mollissima)
For over fifty years, Chinese Chestnuts have been used extensively throughout the country to replace the strickened native American Chestnut lost in the first half of the twentieth century. Chinese Chestnut trees are hardy in zones 5 through 8, or from mid-Florida to the Canada border and, in the East, northern New York. They can withstand winter temperatures as low as -40° F. However, in the most northern areas of their range, they may not have a long enough growing season to bring a crop of nuts to maturity.
Chinese Chestnut trees may grow to 50 or 60 feet, but they usually do not grow straight and tall enough to compete as forest trees in wooded areas. Forty feet high and about the same in spread is what you can expect in the home landscape. Some types of Chinese Chestnut have a shrubby habit, growing from multiple trunks at ground level. The most common Chinese Chestnut growing in home landscapes usually branches close to the ground making it a great candidate as a tree for kids to climb. Their bark produces a very fine red-brown dye.
Chestnut trees are deciduous, dropping their foliage in the fall. Chinese Chestnut trees have dense foliage. Leaves are about 8 inches long, narrow with obvious reddish veins. They have 13 to 15 sharp teeth along each edge and are a lustrous dark green. The undersides of the leaves have grayish hairs. Chinese Chestnut foliage turns a striking yellow-bronze fall color.
Chinese Chestnut trees bear both male and female flowers in mid-June, but they require other Chestnut trees nearby for fertilization. The male flowers grow as attractive tassels that add to the ornamental value of the tree in the early summer, although their fragrance is not considered wonderful by many folks. The female flowers give way in the fall to prickly burrs about 2 inches wide. After frost the burrs split open, revealing 2 or 3 nuts within. Because they flower so late in the spring, Chinese Chestnut trees are vulnerable to early frosts in more northern regions that occasionally arrive before the nuts have had a chance to mature.
Grafted trees in orchard settings produce nuts in their third or fourth year. While these nuts are not as tasty as those of the temporarily defunct American Chestnut, they are very satisfactory. .
Chinese Chestnut Choices
Chinese Chestnuts have been successfully grown in urban areas where air pollution, poor drainage, compacted soil, and/or drought conditions are common. They are a tough tree. Estate-Jap is highly resistant to Chestnut blight. Sleeping Giant grows larger than the species version. Kelsey (very new) is a smaller tree with good nut quality. For ornamental show and nuts try Abundance, Meiling, Nanking, or Kuling .