This is an example of an American chestnut tree reaching its branches out in the sun over Flint Pond in Lincoln. The long thread-like structures are male catkins, which are not yet showing anthers.
Identifying Your Chestnut Tree – Step 1 of 2
The first step in deciding whether your tree is a possible chestnut is to distinguish it from other trees which can be mistaken for chestnut trees. The chestnut genus “Castanea” is not the same as the horsechestnut family “Aesculus” or the beech genus “Fagus“.
In a second step, you need to learn the differences between the common members of the Castanea family. In Massachusetts, these are the American chestnut (Castanea dentata), the Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima), and the Japanese chestnut (Castanea crenata).
If your tree lookes like this, then it is probably a beech tree. These trees have toothed leaves, and smooth gray bark. They also have long pointed buds. The leaf is wider and shorter than the American chestnut tree leaves.
If your tree has leaves like this, it is probably a horsechestnut tree. The leaves are “palmate”, radiating from the center, and are arranged in a spoke. The tree is often found planted in towns. It originated in Europe, and it is often what people think of when they hear about “chestnut” trees. It is in a separate family called “Aesculus”.
Identifying Your Chestnut Tree – Step 2 of 2
Once you have decided that you have a Chestnut, the second step in deciding if your tree is American chestnut is to distinguish whether it is pure American, or if it has some non-American chestnut parentage.
Over the past hundred years or so, European, Chinese, and Japanese chestnut trees as well as hybrids have been planted in the natural range of American chestnut, so remote location is not necessarily a guide to a tree’s parentage.
If your tree has long toothed pendant leaves like this, it may be a member in the chestnut family. The American chestnut has long canoe shaped leaves with a prominent lance-shaped tip, with a coarse, forward hooked teeth at the edge of the leaf. The leaf is dull or “matte” rather than shiny or waxy in texture.
Chestnut Family (Castanea species)
|Leaf taper to stem||straight||curved||curved||curved||straight||Be aware that all chestnuts can cross-pollinate, so that the chestnut you are trying to identify may actually be a mix of two or more different types of chestnuts, known as a hybrid.
We can attempt to identify your chestnut, if you are unable to do so, by means of a leaf and twig sample.
Please press one or two fresh leaves between cardboard with a 4-6 inch twig. Do not use plastic unless it is perforated or the leaves will mold. Crushed and bent leaves will not be in good enough condition to positively analyze.
New England Regional Science Coordinator
Northern Research Station, US Forest Service
705 Spear Street
South Burlington, VT 05403
|Leaf taper to tip||straight||curved||curved||curved||straight|
|Teeth||1-3 mm, small, sharp, no hook||tiny, often only bristles, no hook||large or small, not pronounced or hooked||big, sharp or rounded, no hook||6 mm, big, sharp, and often curved (hooked)|
|Underside||sun leaves hairy||many large dots (glands), sun leaves hairy||sparse dots, sun leaves hairy||many small dots, sun leaves hairy on some specimens but not others||many small dots, sun leaves not hairy, long sparse hairs only on midrib|
|Twig||hair tips, purple||pink to light red, large white lenticels||hairy tips, tan to pea green, large elliptical yellow lenticels||stout, dark brown, small white lenticels||slender, smooth, hairless, reddish brown, small white lenticels|
|Bud||3 mm, downy dark red, pointed, longer than wide, sticks out from stem||glossy brown, as long as it is wide (rounded)||hairy, tan, dull brown to black, rounded and flat against stem||dark red, fat and globular||long 6 mm, smooth, reddish brown, pointed or longer than it is wide, sticks out from stem|
1/2 tip pointed with a round cross section
rounded hairy tip, sunburst pattern
pointed tip, top 1/3-2/3 downy, sunburst at base
Other chestnut identification sites to improve your eyes…